Congratulations to the People of Thailand


December 3, 2016

Congratulations to the People of Thailand

by AFP

Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn becomes Rama X of Thailand’s Chakri Dynasty, but will not formally be crowned until after his father’s cremation, which is expected next year.

King-Rama

Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn became the King of Thailand late Thursday, opening a new chapter for the powerful monarchy in a country still mourning the death of his father.

The 64-year-old Prince inherits one of the world’s richest monarchies as well as a politically febrile nation, 50 days after King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s death.

After weeks of complex palace protocols the Prince was invited by the head of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) to ascend the throne in an event broadcast on all Thai television channels.

“I agree to accept the wishes of the late King… for the benefit of the entire Thai people,” said Vajiralongkorn, wearing an official white tunic decorated with medals and a pink sash.

The sombre, ritual-heavy ceremony at his Bangkok palace was attended by the Chief of the NLA, junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha, and the powerful 96-year-old head of the privy council, Prem Tinsulanonda.

Red-jacketed courtiers looked on as a palace staff member, shuffling on his knees, presented the new King with a microphone through which he delivered his few words of acceptance.

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His Majesty King Vajiralongkorn then prostrated himself, hands pressed together in respect, to a small shrine topped by a picture of his father and mother —Her Majesty Queen Sirikit Kitiyakara.

He becomes Rama X of Thailand’s Chakri dynasty, but will not formally be crowned until after his father’s cremation, which is expected next year.

Bhumibol’s reign, which ended on October 13, spanned a tumultuous period of Thai history pockmarked by a communist insurgency, coups and street protests.

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It also saw breakneck development which has resulted in a huge wealth disparity between a Bangkok-centric elite and the rural poor.To many Thais, Bhumibol was the only consistent force in a politically combustible country, his image burnished by ritual and shielded by a harsh royal defamation law.

The United States offered its congratulations to the new King, saying it looked forward to strengthening ties with Thailand. “We offer our best wishes to his majesty and all of the Thai people,” the State Department said.

“His father, King Bhumibol, ruled the Kingdom of Thailand with vision and compassion for 70 years and was a great friend of the United States. The United States and Thailand enjoy a longstanding, strong, and multifaceted bilateral relationship, and we look forward to deepening that relationship and strengthening the bonds between our two countries and peoples going forward.”

Into the limelight

Monks chanted blessings at Buddhist temples to mark the new monarch’s ascension — an era-defining moment for most Thais who for seven decades knew only Bhumibol as their King.

His Majesty Vajiralongkorn does not yet enjoy the same level of popularity.He spends much of his time outside of the public eye, particularly in southern Germany where he owns property.

He has had three high-profile divorces, while a recent police corruption scandal linked to the family of his previous wife allowed the public a rare glimpse of palace affairs.

Thursday’s ascension ends a period of uncertainty since Bhumibol’s death prompted by the Prince’s request to delay his official proclamation so he could mourn with the Thai people.

Thailand’s constitutional monarchy has limited formal powers but it draws the loyalty of much of the kingdom’s business elite as well as a military that dominates politics through its regular coups.

Analysts say  His Majesty King Vajiralongkorn, untested until now, will have to manage competing military cliques.

In a brief televised address after the ceremony, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who as army chief led the 2014 coup, praised the new King “as the head of the Thai state and heart of the Thai people.”

The Thai monarchy is protected from criticism by one of the world’s strictest lese majeste laws, carrying up to 15 years in jail for every charge of defaming the King, Queen, heir or regent.

That law makes open discussion about the Royal Family’s role all but impossible inside the Kingdom and means all media based inside the country routinely self-censor. Convictions for so-called “112” offences — named after its criminal code — have skyrocketed since the Generals seized power in 2014.

Experts say most have targeted the junta’s political opponents, many of whom support the toppled civilian government of Yingluck Shinawatra.

The emergence of Yingluck’s brother Thaksin in 2001, a vote-winning billionaire seen by many of the rural poor as their champion, prompted the recent round of political conflict. The army and royalist establishment have toppled two governments led by the siblings, accusing them of nepotism and corruption.

 

More on Freedom Fighter Fidel Castro


November 27, 2016

More on Freedom Fighter Fidel Castro

Why black Americans love Fidel Castro

When it came to matching words with deeds on the topic of racial equality, the most stalwart leader of the Western hemisphere, over the course of the 20th century, was Fidel Castro.

I say this as a black American who came to bond closely with Latin America as an adult, living in Mexico for almost two years, traveling and staying with families in the Dominican Republic, and making more than half a dozen visits to Cuba, where I strolled through its enchanting cities and drove into the far reaches of the countryside, forging relationships with its people, especially those of darker hue. The author with Fidel Castro (Photo courtesy of Ronald Howard)

Now we are again feeling the heat of the burning topic, the man, who bonded black Americans to his Caribbean island. Yes, it was Fidel Castro who—even though out of power now for years—is angering so many Americans, especially police officers, over his signature action three decades ago.

It was Fidel who gave amnesty to Joanne Chesimard, known now as Assata Shakur, still wanted in the 1973 killing of a New Jersey state trooper, Werner Foerster, in a highway shootout. Shakur was convicted but was busted out of prison in 1979 by comrades. As a leading figure in the Black Liberation Army, which took bolder actions than even the Black Panther Party did, not only getting into gun fights with cops but holding up banks, Shakur became a legend in her time, a Robin Hood of the black masses.

On December 17, in an historical moment, President Barack Obama announced he would seek to normalize relations with Cuba. On the same day, federal and New Jersey police officials repeated their offer of $2 million for information leading to the capture of Shakur. Last year the feds made Shakur the only woman on the FBI Most Wanted Persons list.

You can be sure on black websites and newspapers there will be attention given to the increasing calls for Shakur’s capture or negotiated return. That attention will come with a history.

Castro did not just provide a haven for fugitive revolutionaries, who made the argument, accepted by perhaps a majority of Cubans under Fidel Castro, that blacks were an oppressed people fighting for fair treatment and an end to police abuses in their communities.

No, he was a kind of Martin Luther King with power. For example, before the Cuban revolutionaries led by Castro took over Cuba in 1959, there was fairly rigid racial segregation through the country, including, for example, Santa Clara in the interior of Cuba.

When I was in Santa Clara in early 2001, a woman there told me how black and white Cubans in the 1950s and earlier had walked along different paths around the beautiful downtown Vidal Park. (All it took in Cuba to be white was to have straight hair, be fair-complexioned and not want to be called “negro.”)

This racial division largely ended under the government of Fidel Castro. Moreover, Castro made an effort to reach out to blacks in the US.

When he came to New York in 1960 for a United Nations meeting, Castro got upset at the management of the hotel where he was staying, the Shelburne, and he packed his bags and took his entourage up to the Theresa Hotel in Harlem, where he famously leaned out of the window and waved to the black residents of the community. Thousands of Harlemites called out his name in a bonding-with-power they were totally unaccustomed to.

In the 1980s, before the end of the Cold War, Fidel sent some 25,000 troops to fight in Angola, on the side of those opposing the then-apartheid government of South Africa. This aspect of Castro’s time in power was little reported in the US media. Fidel militantly opposed racist South Africa at a time when the US was diplomatically supporting it.

It was I who in 1987 first reported that Shakur had actually escaped to Cuba and was residing there, protected by Castro. I spent several days with Shakur at her apartment and walking along the Malecón; my Newsday colleague, photographer Ozier Muhammad, photographed her as she posed provocatively outside the US Interests Section, hands up in victory.

As you know, things have changed since then.The Soviets stopped supporting Cuba; and then the Soviet Union collapsed to the ground. For two decades there has been speculation that one day a liberal American president might move to end the now-half-century embargo against trade with Cuba and allow Americans to travel there freely.

Republicans and many Democrats were outraged at what they called a concession by Obama to the communism they said Cuba—through the retired Fidel’s brother Raul—still represents.

Muffled in the discussion on cable channels are the feelings of kinship and appreciation that black Americans hold for Fidel Castro.

Many of those who harbor such tenderness toward the bearded one do not shout it into microphones because they don’t wish to be accused of being anti-American. But sympathy with Fidel can be seen in decades of blacks voting in Congress. Harlem’s Congressman Charles Rangel, for instance, has been among the most progressive of all representatives when it has come to policies toward Cuba, over the year having proposed an easing of the embargo. And few on the national scene have been more militant in opposing the embargo than black California Congresswoman Maxine Waters.

In the coming days, Assata Shakur will be mentioned more frequently in news stories about Cuba, especially in the northeast. There are growing demands that the United States find a way to bring her back and to put her in jail. And in their stories, New Jersey newspapers are noting how Assata Shakur is being treated as a heroine by many in the black communities of America.

Federal officials and others are aware of how Shakur has become a kind of folk hero among black Americans and even blacks in the Caribbean, with a number of parents over the past 25 years naming their daughters Assata.

Adding to the appeal for blacks is Assata Shakur’s connection to the late rapper Tupac Shakur, who is related to Assata through his male ancestors (though not by blood) and is considered a nephew.

When I wrote about Tupac Shakur for a now defunct black weekly newspaper (the City Sun) I spoke with a top New York federal official, Ken Walton, who said Assata Shakur damn well better be careful of her every move—then, in 1996, and for the rest of her beating-heart life.

“He told me in measured, angry words that he ‘or somebody like me’ will one day capture Assata and bring her back to the States.”

This I know to be true: Every time a fist was raised for Assata Shakur, sympathy was expressed also for the now old Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

By the way, Assata is not the only revolutionary received by Fidel with open arms. He also gave asylum to Nehanda Obiodun (formerly Cheri Laverne Dalton), the only person still wanted in the early 1981 $1.5 million Brinks armored vehicle holdup in Nanuet, New York, in which two police officers were killed.

These days it is not easy to find out where Assata Shakur and Nehanda Obiodun are or even what they are thinking. I hung out with Obiodun and wrote about her in Cuba in the 1990s, but I was blocked at every turn when I tried to get her and Shakur to meet with me and a group of Stony Brook University students I took to Cuba in January of 2012.

Obiodun has been almost completely off the radar in recent years, out of mind. But Assata Shakur has not been. “New Jersey hopes Cuba-US relations thaw will help extradite former Black Panther,” screamed a headline of Atlantic City News on December 18.

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And so, given all this as background, black Americans are not only reflecting nostalgically on Fidel Castro. Some, perhaps many, black police officials publicly declare their desire that Shakur be captured and returned to jail in the US. But other blacks have respect for the courage she showed as she lived in exile for some 30 years, bearing in her torso the remnants of a bullet she took during that shootout in 1973.

Most of all, you can bet, there is a broad agreement with Barack Obama—that the time for hostility with the Cuban government—no longer headed by Fidel Castro but largely by his brother Raul—should be over.

 We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

Remembering my contemporary Tom Hayden of the Vietnam War Era


October 24, 2016

Remembering my contemporary Tom Hayden of the Vietnam War Era

by Robert D. McFadden

Tom Hayden, who burst out of the 1960s counterculture as a radical leader of America’s civil rights and antiwar movements, but rocked the boat more gently later in life with a progressive political agenda as an author and California state legislator, died on Sunday. He was 76.

His wife, Barbara Williams, confirmed the death to The Associated Press. Mr. Hayden had been suffering from heart problems and fell ill while attending the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July.

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During the racial unrest and antiwar protests of the ’60s and early ’70s, Mr. Hayden was one of the nation’s most visible radicals. He was a founder of Students for a Democratic Society, a defendant in the Chicago Seven trial after riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and a peace activist who married Jane Fonda, went to Hanoi and escorted American prisoners of war home from Vietnam.

As a civil rights worker, he was beaten in Mississippi and jailed in Georgia. In his cell he began writing what became the Port Huron Statement, the political manifesto of S.D.S. and the New Left that envisioned an alliance of college and university students in a peaceful crusade to overcome what it called repressive government, corporate greed and racism. Its aim was to create a multiracial, egalitarian society.

Like his allies the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who were assassinated in 1968, Mr. Hayden opposed violent protests but backed militant demonstrations, like the occupation of Columbia University campus buildings by students and the burning of draft cards. He also helped plan protests that, as it happened, turned into clashes with the Chicago police outside the Democratic convention.

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Tom Hayden after announcing he would run for the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate from California in 1976. Credit Walter Zeboski/Associated Press

In 1974, with the Vietnam War in its final stages after American military involvement had all but ended, Mr. Hayden and Ms. Fonda, who were by then married, traveled across Vietnam, talking to people about their lives after years of war, and produced a documentary film, “Introduction to the Enemy.” Detractors labeled it Communist propaganda, but Nora Sayre, reviewing it for The New York Times, called it a “pensive and moving film.”

Later, with the war over and the idealisms of the ’60s fading, Mr. Hayden settled into a new life as a family man, writer and mainstream politician. In 1976 he ran for the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate from California, declaring, “The radicalism of the 1960s is fast becoming the common sense of the 1970s.” He lost to the incumbent, Senator John V. Tunney.

But, focusing on state and local issues like solar energy and rent control, he won a seat in the California Legislature in Sacramento in 1982. He was an assemblyman for a decade and a state senator from 1993 to 2000, sponsoring bills on the environment, education, public safety and civil rights. He lost a Democratic primary for California governor in 1994, a race for mayor of Los Angeles in 1997 and a bid for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council in 2001.

He was often the target of protests by leftists who called him an outlaw hypocrite, and by Vietnamese refugees and American military veterans who called him a traitor. Conservative news media kept alive the memories of his radical days. In a memoir, “Reunion” (1988), he described himself as a “born-again Middle American” and expressed regret for “romanticizing the Vietnamese” and for allowing his antiwar zeal to turn into anti-Americanism.

“His soul-searching and explanations make fascinating reading,” The Boston Globe said, “but do not, he concedes, pacify critics on the left who accuse him of selling out to personal ambition or on the right ‘who tell me to go back to Russia.’ He says he doesn’t care.”

“I get re-elected,” Mr. Hayden told The Globe. “To me, that’s the bottom line. The issues persons like myself are working on are modern, workplace, neighborhood issues.”

The revered, saintly and loved His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand has died


October 13, 2016

Note: The late His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej was the First Among Equals of Asia’s monarchs, who was loved and respected by his people. His passing today will be mourned by the Thais.

Dr. Kamsiah Haider and I wish to express our sincere condolences to the members of the bereaved Royal Family, the Government and the People of Thailand including our friends and associates on the passing of their revered and admired monarch.–Din Merican

The revered, saintly and loved His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand has died

Thai people wearing yellow shirts, the color of the king, hold pictures of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej as they pray during the celebrations of the monarch's 70th anniversary 

His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, who has died aged 88, was the world’s longest serving constitutional monarch and played a unique role at the centre of national life.

The only Buddhist monarch in the world, King Bhumibol (pronounced Poomipon) was unexpectedly elevated to the throne when just 18 years old on the mysterious death by shooting of his brother Ananda in 1946. At the time, the institution of monarchy in Thailand was at a low ebb. Absolute monarchy had been abolished following a military coup two decades previously, and for the better part of those years no king had been in residence and republican sentiments were strong.

The young Bhumibol had spent most of his life abroad and at the time of his accession was studying at Lausanne University. The new king, a shy, bespectacled, almost withdrawn young man, took the dynastic name Rama IX and became the ninth sovereign of the Chakri dynasty.

Despite these inauspicious beginnings, over the following decades King Bhumibol turned Thailand’s new constitutional monarchy into a resounding success. During years of political turmoil and rapid change which saw numerous coups or attempted coups and more than 20 prime ministers, he was seen as a consistent, selfless presence and symbol of national unity. For most of his reign he was credited with being a moderating influence on corrupt politicians, scheming bureaucrats and ambitious generals; it was only recently that some suspected him of interfering in the political process, to the extent of tacitly endorsing a coup in 2006.

In his first address to the Thai Parliament after his coronation in 1950, the King urged its members to do everything in their power to prevent the entry into Thailand of communism from neighbouring countries. Deeply conservative by nature and with a strong belief in stability and order, he was convinced that improving the lot of the peasants would be the best protection against the spread of communism, and thereafter he devoted himself to that end.

He developed an extraordinary rapport with ordinary Thais, and would spend most of every year traveling between a series of palaces around the country. From these he would lead 40-strong convoys of assorted Jeeps and Land-Rovers down dusty roads deep into the countryside meeting local people, visiting rural projects or entertaining local dignitaries.

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Foreign ambassadors to Bangkok would often be dragged from the capital’s cocktail party circuit to spend days bumping around the outback inspecting drainage schemes. Always the King radiated a curious touching innocence.

There seemed no end to the good works in which King Bhumibol was involved. They ranged from lettuce farms and cottage industries such as silk or cotton weaving to dams, schools, clinics and even rain generation plants. The King himself led development programmes in the poorest parts of the country and funded many of them from his own private funds. Successful projects would be passed on to the government for further development.

His excursions to the further reaches of his kingdom sometimes involved risk. In 1977, during a visit to a southern province, a bomb exploded near the royal entourage, but the King was unharmed. Whenever he traveled near the Laotian or Cambodian borders, a helicopter gunship would circle overhead and large numbers of troops would form a ring of protection on the ground.

The King of Thailand has little direct power under the constitution, but on several occasions Bhumibol used his considerable personal and moral authority to resolve political crises that threatened national stability and to try to inch Thailand nearer to stable democracy.

In 1992, for example, when a bloody cycle of pro-democracy protest and military repression seemed about to spiral out of control, the King summoned General Suchina Kraprayoon, the leader of the junta, and his principal civilian opponent for a late night audience.

In a nationally televised humiliation, the two men crawled on their knees to the feet of King Bhumibol for a royal reprimand: “You have not followed the people,” the King scolded quietly. “You talk democracy but you don’t do anything about it.” In one telling moment, the King defused the confrontation, paved the way for fresh elections and destroyed the two men’s careers.

King Bhumibol took great care to re-create the mystique that had surrounded Thai kings of old and revived ceremonies that had not been used since the time of his grandfather, Rama V. In addition to the title of King, he was revered by ordinary Thais as Strength of the Land, Incomparable Power, Brother of the Moon, Half-Brother of the Son, and Possessor of the Twenty-Four Golden Umbrellas.

He demanded, and usually received, absolute respect from his subjects. Every Thai house contained a prominent photograph of the bespectacled monarch, but it was considered impolite for a commoner’s feet to point directly at the picture. Those meeting the King were expected to do so with heads bowed, on their knees.

But it was not just his good works and popularity that boosted the royal image. That was also protected by a draconian lèse-majesté law which made it an offence punishable by between three and 15 years in jail to “defame, insult or threaten” any member of the royal family. The law was strictly enforced, and as recently as January 2009 an Australian writer was jailed for insulting the monarchy. “The moment you take away the mystique,” King Bhumibol explained, “the moment you expose the institution to the daily scrutiny of the modern media, you’ve had it.”

Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej 

Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej pictured in a wheelchair in April 2015. Credit: EPA/Royal Household Bureau

Prince Somdet Phra Chao Yu Hua Bhumibol Adulayej was born on December 5 1927 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of Prince Mahidol of Songkla, half-brother and heir of the last absolute monarch of Thailand, King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) and the younger son of King Chulachomklao (Rama V, reigned 1868-1910).

The Chakri dynasty into which he was born dates back to 1782. Prince Bhumibol’s great-grandfather King Mongkut (King Chomklao, reigned 1851-1868) was splendidly, if inaccurately, brought to life in Anna and the King of Siam and, later, The King and I.

Prince Bhumibol’s father, Prince Mahidol, had married a Siamese commoner and studied to be a doctor. At the time of the birth of Prince Bhumibol, he was studying public health and medicine at Harvard and his wife was studying nursing and economics at Simmons College close by.

Prince Bhumibol was the youngest of the family’s three children, having an elder brother and sister. At the time of his birth, he was several steps removed from succession to the Thai throne, and his elder brother, Prince Ananda, had precedence.

Prince Mahidol died in 1928, when his son was a year old, and the family returned to Thailand where, as a young boy, Prince Bhumibol briefly attended Mater Dei Primary School. But in 1933, following a military coup, King Prajadhipok ordered the family to move to Lausanne, Switzerland. There the Prince attended the Ecole Miremont and the Ecole Nouvelle de la Suisse Romande, Chailly sur Lausanne. Later he enrolled at the Gymnase de Lausanne.

While the family were living in Switzerland, political changes in Thailand started the chain of events that would eventually elevate the young Prince Bhumibol to the throne.

In 1932, following the coup, King Prajadhipok agreed a new constitution that would replace Thailand’s absolute monarchy with a constitutional one, and in 1935 he abdicated the throne in favour of his nephew, Prince Ananda, then 10 years old. The two young princes visited Thailand briefly in 1938-39.

During the greater part of the Second World War, Thailand was controlled by a pro-Japanese puppet government, so that Princes Ananda and Bhumibol did not return there until late 1945, when Prince Ananda went to Bangkok for his coronation.

Before the ceremony could be performed, however, on the morning of June 9 1946 Prince Ananda was found in bed with a bullet in his skull and a revolver by his side. Despite a seven-year murder trial and the execution of three junior palace staff, there has never been a satisfactory explanation of why he died, and the death was officially ruled an accident. A book which suggested that Ananda killed himself because he had been forbidden to marry a Swiss girlfriend was banned in Thailand.

As King Ananda’s brother, Prince Bhumibol was named his successor by Act of Parliament. Two months later, after the legislature had appointed a two-man regency council to rule pending his coming of age, he returned to Switzerland to complete his education.

The young King had planned to become an architect and had enrolled at the University of Lausanne to study Engineering. Following his brother’s death, however, he changed his course to Law and Political Science.

When King Bhumibol attained his majority in December 1946, the Siamese government allocated several hundred thousand dollars for the ceremonial cremation of the remains of King Ananda, a necessary preliminary to the coronation of his successor who was required by religious custom to light the funeral pyre. Unsettled conditions in 1947 following a coup d’état forced a postponement, and court astrologers settled on March 2 1949 as the most auspicious date.

But in October 1948, King Bhumibol was seriously injured in a motor accident in Lausanne which left him blind in one eye and paralysed half his face. Both cremation and coronation had to be postponed once more.

By the time of his coronation, the King had married Princess Mom Rachawong Sirikit Kitiyakara, a great-granddaughter of a former king and thus a distant cousin. In the 1960s she would be described as one of the 10 most beautiful women in the world.

King Bhumipol had first met Princess Sirikit in Paris, where her father was serving as ambassador. She was 15 years old and training to be a concert pianist. While in hospital recovering from the motor accident, King Bhumibol asked to see her and they soon became engaged.

Their wedding, on April 28 1950, was described by The New York Times as “the shortest, simplest royal wedding ever held in the land of gilded elephants and white umbrellas”. The ceremony was performed by the King’s ageing grandmother, Queen Sawang Vadhana.

A week later, on May 5 1950, the formal coronation rites took place in the Baisal Daksin Throne Hall in the Grand Palace. It was the first coronation ceremony of a Thai sovereign to rule under the system of constitutional monarchy.

The royal couple spent their honeymoon at Hua Hin beach in southern Thailand before they returned to Switzerland, where the King completed his studies. They returned to Thailand in 1951.

In 1956 King Bhumibol followed Thailand’s spiritual tradition of entering the Buddhist monkhood of Sangkha for 15 days to practice meditation. He was ordained by the Supreme Patriarch on October 22 at the Royal Chapel of the Emerald Buddha in the Grand Palace.

King Bhumibol remained sensitive to the way in which Thailand is perceived by the outside world. As well as making numerous state visits, he often employed his powers of clemency to secure the release of westerners held in the country’s jails.

He always liked to keep abreast of the latest developments in science and culture. He was an accomplished painter and photographer, and was the first member of the Thai royal family to be granted a patent for an invention. The registered patent is for the Chai Pattana Aerator Model RX 2, an apparatus for water treatment which can be seen operating in many polluted waterways in Thailand.

King Bhumibol was also a writer and musician. He translated several works of literature into Thai. He also composed a number of pop songs, including HM Blues and a little number called Oh I Say! One of his compositions, a beguine entitled Blue Night (with lyrics by the royal chamberlain) was incorporated in the 1950 Broadway revue Peep Show.

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His Majesty King Bhumibol played jazz with Benny Goodman and his band

As King, Bhumibol would serenade the population every Friday night on the saxophone, performing with a jazz group in the studios of the royal radio station. He would also become the first Asian composer to be honoured by being made a member of the Viennese Institute of Music and Arts.

The King had been a keen sportsman, fond of skiing, tennis and diving. A skilled sailor, he once sailed a dinghy single-handed across the dangerous Gulf of Thailand; in 1967 he won a gold medal in dinghy sailing for Thailand at the fourth South-East Asia Peninsula Games.

Although the King continued to be revered by most Thais, the palace had recently come in for some unprecedented, if discreet, criticism. There were allegations that the royal advisers interfered in politics, specifically that they played a part in inspiring the bloodless military coup of 2006 that ousted the democratically elected government of Thaksin Shinawatra, who had been prime minister for five years. In late 2008 both of Bangkok’s airports were closed by anti-government protesters, and in April 2009 100,000 demonstrators demanded the resignation of the King’s chief adviser, General Prem Tinsulanonda, whom they accused of masterminding the 2006 coup – which some believed that the King had privately endorsed. Although implicit rather than explicit criticism of the monarchy, this represented a significant change in the tenor of political debate.

King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit had one son and three daughters who, according to official sources, were all “deeply involved in activities to better the lot of the Thai people and are themselves loved and respected”.

The truth, suppressed in Thailand, was rather different. As a student in America, the King’s eldest daughter, Princess Ubol Ratana, fell in love with an American fellow student and settled in America as plain Mrs Jensen. Her photograph never appears in public in Thailand.

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His son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn (pic above), was widely regarded as a playboy, and rumours about his dissipated lifestyle were legion. After divorcing his first wife, claiming that she spent too much time playing table tennis, he married a commoner by whom he already had teenage children. That marriage too ended when his second wife walked out to live with a retired air marshal in London.

In 1996, on the day his father celebrated 50 years on the throne, the Crown Prince pinned a proclamation on the walls of the Palace accusing his wife of adultery.

The Thai constitution was amended in the 1970s to allow a woman to succeed to the throne, and there were said to be many in Thailand who would have liked to have seen the crown pass to the King’s second daughter, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. In recent years, however, the Crown Prince’s standing has improved as he assumed more of his father’s ceremonial duties.

In October 2007, the king suffered the symptoms of a minor stroke; the following year he was unable to make his traditional annual birthday speech. Rumours around his health persisted over the following years, sometimes affecting the Thai financial markets.

He is survived by Queen Sirikit and their four children. He is succeeded to the throne by HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.

His Majesty King Bhumbol Adulyadej of Thailand, born December 5 1927, died October 13 2016.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/obituaries/2016/10/13/king-bhumibol-adulyadej-of-thailand–obituary/

Fond Farewell Shimon


October 3, 2016

Fond Farewell Shimonחטיבת פרידה שמעון

by Tom Segev

Shimon Peres, who died Wednesday at 93, was laid to rest as an Israeli prince of peace. Leaders from around the world came to Jerusalem to pay their respects to Israel’s eldest statesman, a defense minister, prime minister, president and more, who ended his long life as a symbol of his country’s quest for reconciliation with the Palestinians.

Mr. Peres certainly would have liked to enter history as a peacemaker, but that’s not how he should be remembered: Indeed, his greatest contributions were to Israel’s military might and victories. Despite his involvement in the Oslo peace process, which earned him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, along with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was never his primary work.

A close associate and deeply devoted admirer of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding father, Mr. Peres shared his mentor’s conviction that there could be no real peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, at least not for several generations. As Ben-Gurion’s deputy minister of defense, Mr. Peres also held part of the responsibility for the harsh and often arbitrary restrictions that the military imposed on the county’s Arab citizens, including extensive land confiscations.

He was crucial to the development of Israel’s military industry, including some of its most sophisticated weaponry. In the early 1950s, just a few years after Israel declared independence, he concluded that Israel must develop its own nuclear option. He established secret contacts with France to obtain nuclear technology. The nuclear reactor that now sits near the town of Dimona in the Negev Desert is largely thanks to these efforts.

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Israeli Defence Minister Shimon Peres (right) addresses Israeli paratroops after the completion of Operation Entebbe, July 1976. Credit Keystone/Hulton Archive, via Getty Images
 

On matters military and diplomatic alike, Mr. Peres was courageous and imaginative. He was willing to consider and often to risk almost all political, diplomatic and military options, regardless of how fantastic and unrealistic they might be. In 1967, he sought to avoid the Six Day War, anticipating heavy losses for the Israeli army. He reportedly suggested that instead of going to war, Israel should detonate a powerful and extremely noisy device that would scare Egypt, Jordan and Syria out of their plan to attack Israel. He found no support for this scheme, but had it worked it might have significantly altered the events of the last 50 years — avoiding the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

But over the course of his political career, Mr. Peres participated in the oppression of the Palestinians who have been living for nearly half a century under Israeli occupation. In 1975, when he was defense minister, Mr. Peres granted permission to one of the first groups of Israeli settlers to remain in the West Bank. Later, he supported the establishment of several other settlements, laying the first obstacles to the so-called two-state solution.

Over the years, Mr. Peres sent diplomatic feelers to Arab leaders, primarily King Hussein of Jordan, who had been talking secretly with Israeli leaders for decades. In an abortive agreement with the king, Mr. Peres consented in 1987 to end the occupation of the West Bank and put it under Jordanian rule. Later, Jordan and Israel concluded an official peace agreement, while Mr. Peres was foreign minister. The Palestinian issue remained unresolved. And in 1993, as foreign minister, Mr. Peres signed in Oslo the agreement that led to an exuberant ceremony on the White House lawn and gained Mr. Peres the joint Nobel Peace Prize. Oslo faded away; the Palestinian issue remains unresolved.

The rest of the world hailed the Oslo agreement as proof that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be resolved. But within Israel it was, and still is, controversial. The right called Mr. Peres a defeatist for ceding some control of the West Bank, the left called him an expansionist because the agreement didn’t end the occupation. Both sides were not entirely wrong. In fact, Mr. Peres was trying to please everyone, settlers and peace activists alike. That was the story line of his political life.

Even as a powerful politician, Mr. Peres remained an outsider. He was born in Poland as Shimon Persky. He arrived in Palestine at age 11 and immediately set out on a long and painful struggle to become a “New Hebrew,” which the Zionist ideology sought to create in contrast to the diaspora Jew: strong, masculine, upright, courageous and productive. Mr. Peres lived for a while on a kibbutz. He assumed a Hebrew name but he was never able to get rid of his Yiddish accent. And unlike Mr. Rabin and other locally born members of the elite, he did not fight in the 1948 war for independence, something for which veterans looked down on him.

Thus there was something pathetic about Mr. Peres’s attempt to transform himself into “a real Israeli.” For most of his life, he had to endure widespread hatred from his people, and, even worse, mockery. Throughout his career he gave ample reason to associate him with petty party politics and sleazy intrigue. But in reality he was motivated not by a lust for power or by greed, but by an outsider’s desperate quest for his people’s love.

In 2005, Mr. Peres left the Labor Party, which had been his political home, and joined a new party headed by Ariel Sharon, a former general and the epitome of that admirable “New Jew.” The deal brought Mr. Peres the presidency and, finally, the love of almost all Jewish Israelis. It amounted to a biographical miracle. No other Israeli leader had attained that much affection since the assassination of Mr. Rabin.

As President, Mr. Peres was recast as an optimistic father figure, an elder statesman who represented a country devoted to peace and justice. It helped, of course, that the presidency is largely a ceremonial post and Mr. Peres no longer constituted a political threat to anybody. And because he was viewed as a champion of peace, few Israelis resented his objection to proposals to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, preferring negotiations.

It was ironic that Mr. Peres gained in popularity at a time when Israel was losing many of its friends in the world. He remains perhaps the last Israeli many in the rest of the world can still admire as they once admired his country. He died at a time of apparent transition. Not long from now, Israel may once again have to face crucial and painful decisions regarding its future as a Jewish and democratic country. These decisions will require a truly great leader, someone who, unlike Mr. Peres, demands his people’s compliance, not their love.