Monday, August 31

Egypt's President is no Sissi

To settle this debate among editors at Western news outlets I looked at the website for the Embassy of Egypt in Washington, D.C. This on the theory that the embassy should know how their own President's name and honorific form of address (Al vs. El) are spelled:   

President, Abdel Fattah El Sisi

Granted, his full name is Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil El Sisi (Wikipedia) but there you have it. The President is no Sissi. He's Sisi.

And the proper form of address is "President Sisi." Calling him President El Sisi would be like adressing Barack Obama as President Mr Obama.

Thank you. Good night, Chet.


The Nation report on Bangkok Bombings provides information other news sources haven't

Kudos to The Nation, a Thai news site that from the looks of it covers regional as well as Thai issues. I've highlighted passages in the following report that contain information about the police investigation I hadn't learned about from other news sources. But before The Nation report, I want to mention a big and important discrepancy in reports filed today by Thai news site Khaosod English and The Washington Post.

From KE (Soldiers, Police Sweep Southern Home of Thai Bombing Suspect, last updated 18:24:00 GMT):
At around 2pm today soldiers and policemen arrived at Wanna’s family home [in Phang Nga province] and conducted a search of the property for any suspicious material. No illegal items were found in the search, police said. 
Her family members told police she has not been back home for three months.
According to a reporter on the scene in Phang Nga, a police officer told one of the relatives to use the Line chat application to contact Wanna and ask where she was, at which point Wanna allegedly replied that she is in Turkey.
From WP (Thai police seek 2 new suspects in Bangkok bombing probe, timestamped 6:25pm EDT, which is considerably later than the KE report's publication):
Police Maj. Gen. Chalit Keawyarat said the woman’s relatives told police that she had been away for more than three months and that they thought she was in Turkey because her husband is Turkish.
“The relatives are trying to contact her so that she could prove her innocence to the police. The relatives believe she is not involved,” Chalit said.
I saw the Khaosod English report early this morning (EDT), so maybe The Washington Post reporter(s) -- not credited in the report -- would want to do a little more checking before running with a story from a foreign country. I think there's always a home team advantage but just because of this, American reporters and their editors need to pay very close attention to the local reports berfore filing their own.
As to whether the Post's version might actually be the correct one, there was most definitely a local reporter on the scene. Here is a photograph that Khaosod English obtained of police and military investigators chatting with Wanna's family members:

Wanted woman 'in Turkey'
September 1, 2015 - 1:00am [local time]
The Nation

Thai woman flew out of Phuket in July; bomb materials found in flat she rented, police say; relative claims she will return to deny any role in blasts

THE hunt for those behind the Erawan Shrine bombing two weeks ago has narrowed, with arrest warrants issued for two more suspects - one of them a Thai woman from the South.

However, police have been unable to clearly pinpoint the motive for Bangkok's worst bomb attack. They have come up with the theory that the culprits may have been human smugglers angered by the government's crackdown on the illegal trade, a source familiar with the ongoing investigation said yesterday.

Previously, possible suspects included political rivals, organised criminal gangs, Islamic militants, southern insurgents and sympathisers of Uighur refugees.

Four arrest warrants have so far been issued in connection with the two blasts - the male shrine bomber seen wearing a yellow shirt and a man in a blue shirt who dropped an explosive device at Sathorn pier. That device exploded the day after the shrine attack but no one was injured.

Meanwhile, police investigators have found footage from closed-circuit TV cameras near Hua Lamphong Railway Station that shows the shrine bomber receiving a backpack similar to one used in the bombing from a man in a white shirt, another police source said.

Min Buri Provincial Court yesterday granted a police request to issue arrest warrants for Phang Nga resident Wanna Suansan, 26, who is also known by the Muslim name Maisaloh, and a man of an unspecified nationality.

Police said Wanna rented an apartment in Min Buri in eastern Bangkok for the man.

A sketch of the unidentified man, who looks to be a foreigner, was issued along with the arrest warrant.

The wanted woman left Thailand on July 1 from Phuket airport for Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, according to a police source. Video footage showed her with a man who looks like the man in the police sketch. However, there is no immigration record of him leaving Thailand.

A search of Wanna's rented room found gunpowder, urea fertiliser and other bomb-making materials, Royal Thai Police spokesman Lt-General Prawut Thavornsiri said.

Police searched her house in Phang Nga yesterday afternoon. A relative of Wanna at the house said she was in Turkey, the country of her husband.

The relative said Wanna had insisted she was not involved with the blasts and would come back soon to turn herself in to police. [See excerpts from a CNN report, below]

But Prawut said: "We are confident that these two people are in the same group of people responsible for the blasts at the Ratchaprasong intersection and the Sathon pier."

He said more arrest warrants would be issued soon but declined elaborate.

The foreigner of unknown nationality arrested on Saturday at an apartment in Nong Chok is still denying involvement in the blasts, a source said. However, substances found on his clothes were similar to what was used in the bombs.

Police will conduct a DNA test in a bid to confirm his link with the blasts, the source added.

The man, who held a fake Turkish passport, is being detained at the 11th Military Circle in Bangkok's Dusit district, where security has been increased. No media are allowed to take photographs or do video recordings at the agency.

Prawut dismissed a report that police were detaining four Palestinians in connection with the investigation. But he could not confirm or deny they were being detained by the military.

The spokesman said police were conducting searches in many locations but declined to discuss the operation in detail. He urged owners of apartment buildings with foreign tenants to prepare copies of CCTV recordings of the tenants for police examination.

National police chief General Somyot Poompanmuang met Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha at Government House yesterday to report on progress in the investigation. The PM told reporters afterwards that the mass media should avoid making wild speculation about the case or they could further complicate the probe.

In the government's newsletter for September 1 (today), General Prayut wrote: "I and all the Cabinet members promise that we will do the best of our ability to prevent such an incident from happening again. And we will find all the perpetrators to be punished in accordance with the law."


From CNN report today updated 3:55pm EDT:

Wanna herself has denied any involvement, according to the police official. She admitted renting an apartment room in Bangkok, though she claimed she gave it up almost a year ago.
The 26-year-old said that she's in Turkey with her baby and husband, who is Turkish, according to Saharat. The police colonel added that he believed Wanna would willingly come back to Thailand and answer authorities questions "if the government would help her come home."
Despite her denials, Saharat said Thai police still consider Wanna a suspect.
Police images of suspects Wanna Suansan and unidentified man who may be her husband

Egypt gets lucky with "massive" gasfield find off its coast

It will take an estimated 5 years for the gasfield to come online -- although with President Sisi at the helm, it could take 2.  He is absolutely incredible, almost a force of nature.  Anyway, this is great news for the Egyptians.  

Massive Gas Find Promises to Ease Egypt's Fuel Crisis
CAIRO — Aug 31, 2015, 4:42 PM ET
Associated Press via ABC News

The discovery of a huge gas field off Egypt's coast promises to ease a long-running fuel crisis and boost the economy after years of unrest, but it will take years to develop and won't bring Gulf-style riches to the Arab world's most populous country, experts said Monday.
The new "supergiant" offshore Zohr field, revealed a day earlier by Italy's Eni SpA and billed as the "largest-ever" found in the Mediterranean Sea, could alleviate Egypt's need for gas imports in the coming years, when a booming population will lead to a spike in domestic demand.
The latest discovery — potentially 30 trillion cubic feet of gas — represents about half of Egypt's current needs, and would add to its current 65 trillion cubic feet, cut its trade deficit and bring in tax revenue when it comes online in some five years, said Angus Blair of investment advisory firm Signet.
"It's a very useful positive economic factor in Egypt," he said. "Obviously it will help President (Abdel-Fattah) el-Sissi and the government, but to look at it very practically, and economically, it has just come at a very good time."
Plenty more in the report.   

Bangkok bombings: Police release images of 2 people sought; 2 arrest warrants issued UPDATED

UPDATE 10:00am EDT
From CNN report today, updated 8:19am EDT:
Wanna Suansan [see below] originally from Phang Nga, a province in southern Thailand, [police spokesman] Prawut told CNN. She is the only suspect Thai authorities have identified by name to date, but her mother has told police that she left Thailand two months ago "to stay with her husband in Turkey," Col. Saharat Saksilapachai said.
"Arrest warrants were issued this afternoon for 26-year-old Wanna Suansan, a Thai national; and an unidentified foreign man, a police sketch of which is at right. Images: Royal Thai Police"

The photo of Wanna is taken from a national identification card.  The two images and following report were published at Khaosod English. Before featuring an excerpt from the report I want to mention that in an earlier post, which I've since corrected, I wrote that the forged passports found by police in the arrested suspect's apartment were blank. Some of them were blank, according to the police spokesperson.  However, one report mentioned that the Thai police were trying to track down the people who are named/ photographed on the passports. This means at least some of the 200+ passports were filled in.

Bangkok Bombing: Warrants Out for Thai Woman, Foreign Man
31 August 2015, last updated at 13:13:00 GMT

Khaosod English

BANGKOK — Arrest warrants for a Thai woman and a foreign national suspected of involvement in the bomb attacks earlier this month were issued this afternoon following a second raid conducted in the capital’s Min Buri district.

Following the arrest of a foreign man in Bangkok’s eastern suburbs and a second raid elsewhere turned up a large quantity of bomb-making materials, a court this afternoon issued fresh warrants for two more people suspected of involvement in the 17 Aug. Erawan Shrine bombing.

“We would like to ask owners of apartments, dorms or rental houses that have foreign residents whose appearances match these descriptions to immediately contact security officers, because these individuals may have materials that could be dangerous to the buildings and other residents,” Lt. Gen Prawuth Thawornsiri, police spokesman, said this afternoon in a televised address.

One warrant is for 26-year-old Wanna Suansan, a Thai woman said to have rented out a Min Buri room raided Saturday night, where authorities said they found bomb-making materials. The other suspect is an unnamed man whose nationality has not been confirmed.

In a photograph of what authorities said is Wanna’s national ID card, she is shown wearing hijab. The other suspect is an unnamed man whose nationality has not been confirmed, Prawuth said.

Forty soldiers and police officers converged on a Min Buri apartment building where they believe Wanna was staying. They discovered illegal materials including two bags of fertilizer, gunpowder, bolts, remote-controlled toys, electric bulbs and digital watches, according to Prawuth.

The building is located in a Muslim enclave near a mosque and shops selling hijab and halal food. 

According to Police Col. Susak Parakmakul, a senior officer with the Bangkok Metropolitan Police, previous arrests were made in the same district two years ago of suspected bomb makers. He declined to conclude whether the fertilizer and gunpowder found in Saturday’s raid was related to Erawan Shrine bombing.

“We have to wait for the forensic police to investigate the evidence in details to determine whether these [evidence] are related to the bomb incident at Ratchaprasong intersection,” Susak said yesterday.



Bangkok bombings: Police hunt for Thai woman believed to keep safe house for suspects UPDATED 5:15=am EDT

Police have released a photo of the woman and a sketch of another suspect, an unnamed foreigner, and issued arrest warrants for them.  See this report at Khaosod English.  
The following report includes a helpful review of the police investigation up to this point. See the Bangkok Post website for links to related reports and photographs. Also see the Bankgok Post's August 30 report by Terry Fredrickson Police arrest Erawan bomb suspect (Updated Sunday) for a lengthy discussion about the breaking of the case. 

By the way events are revealing that the Thai police, who've been the brunt of jokes and complaints about their investigation of the bombing and muddled statements to the press, have been quietly inching their way through a textbook example of thorough police work.

From various news reports, I think they've been getting a lot of help in recent days from American intel analysts and hi-tech surveillance equipment, Interpol, and possibly the British MI6, in a case that by now clearly has a big international component. But gathering and interpreting clues from a complex crime always comes down to old-fashioned slog work.....

Thai woman sought for bomb attacks 
August 31, 2015 - 3:47 [local time]
The Bangkok Post

Police believe a Thai woman kept a second safe house for the bombers to assemble explosives 

Authorities are hunting for a Thai woman after materials believed to be used for bomb-making were seized from her room at an apartment in Min Buri district. She was believed to know the perpetrators thought to be behind the Erawan shrine and Sathon pier bombings, according to police sources. 

The group was thought to be planning more attacks. The woman is identified as "Misaloh", and rented room Maimuna Garden Home, an apartment in Bangkok's Min Buri district. 

On Saturday night, a combined police and military force searched the room and confiscated several items which can be used to make bombs. Found in the room include urea-based fertiliser, six 12x7cm bottles of flash powder, black and blue electrical wiring, four wristwatches, a table clock, a pack of bolts, decorative tree lights, an empty box for a walkie-talkie, a radio-controlled toy vehicle and a rucksack containing books. Police seized the items for examination. 

The search was based on information gleaned from the foreigner suspect detained on Saturday in a raid at the Pool Anant apartment in Nong Chok district, where authorities seized bulk supplies of materials for making bombs, sources said. 

The suspect is now being detained at the 11th Army Circle in Bangkok. Following the Saturday night search, a team of 40 police and military officers went back Sunday to  to Maimuna Garden Home and searched the entire apartment again. A welding tool was found in one room and seized for examination. Deputy national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda said police were deployed to five areas to track down more suspects. He declined to disclose the locations. 

Police spokesman Prawut Thawornsiri said Sunday a network of foreign nationals is thought to be behind the Erawan shrine blast.

Pol Lt Gen Prawut said significant quantities of bomb-making materials including detonator cords and fuses seized from the suspect's room during Saturday's raid point to the possibility the suspect and his accomplices had several more targets in mind.

"There were large quantities of bomb-making materials including 10 detonator cords," said Pol Lt Gen Prawut, also assistant police chief. 

The evidence has been sent for forensic examination and the findings will confirm if they are linked to the Erawan shrine and Sathon pier explosions, he said. The police spokesman said the detained suspect, who cannot speak Thai, has so far denied any involvement in the Erawan shrine bombing, he said, adding authorities cannot confirm his identity or nationality. 

"He gave a certain amount of cooperation, saying where he travelled from. But we don't believe everything he said. So far he has made no confession," he said. Investigators are not ruling out any motives at this stage and it is too early to conclude what role the suspect played in the attacks. 

It is believed many other people, some of whom are likely to be Thai nationals, are involved, said Pol Lt Gen Prawut. He did not give a number. 

One of the possible motives is the blasts [was] an act of personal revenge after police recently cracked down on foreign criminals including those running fake passport syndicates. 

It is possible the suspect is involved in a syndicate that makes counterfeit passports for nationals who entered Thailand on the quiet and wanted to travel to a third country, he said. 

More than 200 fake passports were seized from the suspect's room, which lends weight to this theory, he said. 

Police investigators have [also] confirmed the two attacks [Erawan shrine and Sathon pier on August 17] are linked based on the type of the explosive devices used. 


Bangkok bombings: Thai police find bomb materials in second apartment UPDATED 2X

Police have released a photo of the Thai woman and a sketch of another suspect, an unnamed foreigner, and issued arrest warrants for them.  See this report at Khaosod English.  

The Bangkok Post's August 31 report on the discovery of the second apartment (Thai woman sought for bomb attacks) is far more informative than the AP one shown below (home team advantage), but while I've featured the entire text of the BP report in the next post, I'm leaving this post up for the record.  
Events have been moving fast since there was a break in the case on August 29 with the arrest of a suspect in the bombing case; his apartment was loaded with bomb-making material. 

The Latest: Thai police find bomb-making materials in raid of 2nd apartment
August 30, 2015 
The Associated Press via Fox News [which forgot to add a time stamp thanks guys!]

The latest on the investigation in the Bangkok shrine bombing (all times local):

10:30am [Monday August 31]

Thai police probing Bangkok's deadly bombing say they have discovered bomb-making materials during a raid of a second apartment on the outskirts of the capital.

National police chief Prawuth Thavornsiri said Monday that police found fertilizer, gun powder, digital clocks and remote-controlled cars whose parts can be used for detonation, among other items, during a raid over the weekend at an apartment in Bangkok's Min Buri district.

Prawuth said "these are bomb-making materials" and added that police are looking to issue three or four arrest warrants but declined to give more details.

Min Buri is near the neighborhood where police on Saturday arrested an unnamed foreigner and seized a trove of bomb-making equipment that included detonators and ball bearings.

Prawuth said Saturday the man's nationality is still not known. He said "we are very certain he's part of the network" that carried out the Aug. 17 bombing at Bangkok's Erawan Shrine that left 20 people dead and more than 120 injured.



Sunday, August 30

Erawan Shrine Bombing: Thai police believe nabbed suspect part of people-smuggling gang

This could be the explanation for the large number of forged passports found in the suspect's apartment. The forgeries are so crummy that this is one reason police have tentatively ruled out that the suspect is part of an international terrorist organization.

Thailand bombing suspect 'part of people-smuggling gang'
Deutsche Welle with combined reports from Associated Press, Reuters, dpa
August 30, 2015

The foreign suspect reportedly refused to answer any questions or provide details about whether he played a role in the bomb attack that killed 20 people and left scores wounded, Thai officials said Sunday.

Police spokesman Prawuth Thawornsiri also said the detained suspect may have been part of a people-smuggling ring helping illegal migrants obtain forged documents. The spokesman added it was possible the attack was in retaliation for a recent Thai crackdown on the trade in the region.

"They (the gang) are unsatisfied with police arresting illegal entrants," he told Channel 3 in an interview.

"The interrogation is not making progress because the suspect is not really giving useful information," army chief General Udomdej Sitabutr told AFP.

"We have to conduct further interrogations and make him better understand so he will be more cooperative - while we have to be careful not to violate the suspect's rights," he added.

The 28-year-old foreigner was arrested on Saturday at a flat in Nong Jok on Bangkok's eastern outskirts. Police allegedly found bomb-making materials as well as a stack of fake passports at the property. Police spokesman Prawuth said the materials were similar to those used in the bomb that went off at the Erawan Shrine in the heart of the Thai capital on August 17. He added, however, that the detained man may only be linked to the attack, not the bomber himself.

Identity unknown

The suspect, whose identity is yet to be verified, is being held at an army base north of Bangkok on charges of possessing illegal explosives. Local reports suggested he could be from Turkey, but the Turkish embassy has denied the claim.

Following the blast, images were circulated of a yellow-shirted individual who was captured on camera leaving a bag at the scene of the explosion. It's not clear whether the man arrested Saturday is the same man in the video footage.

Thai police on Sunday were monitoring about 1,000 mobile phone numbers and checking photographs used in some 200 seized passports to track down other people who may have been involved in orchestrating the strike.

Who's responsible?

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, which mainly killed tourists from across Asia. But local officials and experts have put forward a number of potential perpetrators and motives.

Some experts have suggested southern ethnic Malay insurgents, opponents of the military government, and sympathizers of Uighur Muslims may be behind the bombing. Thailand forcibly repatriated more than 100 Uighur refugees to China last month, prompting an international outcry. 

[Pundita note: From all my readings on Thailand, I don't give weight to the Uighur and Malay theories.]



Nature is not a human rights advocate

The headline for an August 29 report at CBS News San Francisco reads, Lost Hiker With 2 Broken Legs Survives 9 Days Crawling In Wilderness

That hiker is a 62 year old woman.  

I had a broken leg once, in my 20s, which couldn't be treated right away. The pain was so awful that after a couple hours I was pleading for someone, anyone, to kill me. I do remember making the plea but I also remember that I was almost out of my mind from delirium.  

That must have been the case with the hiker; at some point she must have experienced delirium from the pain. Yet she had the presence of mind to decide that there was no way she would survive a long search for her unless she got to a water source. So she starting crawling  She crawled until she found a creek. 
The decision -- and the whistle she carried -- saved her life because the search was slowed by a forest fire that broke out in the area.  So while she went 9 days without food, she had potable water.

Now why would a 62 year-old go hiking in the wilderness? Of course the question sounds silly to a nature lover, but I'm not one. My idea of trekking through the wilds is driving through Rock Creek Park here in Washington, DC. And I'm never comfortable until the car is out of the woods. The road through the park is a heavily traveled vehicular thoroughfare yet my view is that one never knows what can happen in the wilds.      

But from a nature lover's viewpoint, she was in good health and she wasn't alone; she was part of a hiking group but somehow got separated from the group, then sustained a bone-breaking fall that prevented her from returning to the group's base camp.  

However, the scariest part of the story is the words uttered by the man who headed up the search:
“When you’re nine days into it, you’re really starting to wonder if the dividends are going to pay off for you and then have such a success story is utterly amazing,” CHP Chief Jim Abrams. “It just tickles us all to death that we have good news at the end of nine days because that is rather amazing survival for that length of time.”
Yes. At some point mathematics has to take over a search for the missing.  But there is a place math can't go, and one must always strive to mentally reside in that place.      

Miyuki Harwood, Survivor


YouStink gives government 72 hours to meet their demands: Latest on Lebanon crisis

Aug. 30, 2015 | 10:35 AM (Last Updated: August 30, 2015 | 11:04 AM)
The Daily Star (Lebanon)

BEIRUT: The civil society group 'You Stink' said 19 people were arrested by police in Downtown Beirut’s Riad al-Solh Square late Saturday night.

You Stink said on its official Facebook page the detainees were from various Lebanese regions who represent different political groups.

The Internal Security Forces had acknowledged making “several arrests” after protesters succeeded shortly before midnight in crossing the first barbed wire fence erected in front of the government headquarters known as the Grand Serail in Downtown Beirut.

The massive rally organized by You Stink Saturday was mostly peaceful until a group of young men began to throw bottles and set off firecrackers near the Serail around 8:30 p.m. after organizers had said protesters were free to go home.

They set trash on fire next to the barbed wire and pulled it down in an attempt to get closer to the Serail.

You Stink, which distanced itself from any protesters clashing with security forces, had vowed to escalate its campaign next week if the state failed to meet the group’s demands within 72 hours.

"On Tuesday our demonstrations will not only be held in Beirut but in different areas across Lebanon," a You Stink member told thousands of demonstrators who flooded into Martyrs' Square in Downtown Beirut Saturday to join the anti-corruption rally.

"Our battle is long and will continue until the executive and legislative authorities return to citizens... and the election of a new head state... but we will be victorious," she added, reading from a statement.

You Stink Sunday warned political leaders that “your hour has come” in a new hashtag added to their current one: “we will carry on.”

Thousands of citizens waving the Lebanese flag and holding banners to denounce corruption and the politicians' failure to manage the state converged Saturday on Martyrs' Square in Downtown Beirut.

Protesters shouted slogans against politicians and denounced Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk as well as Environment Minister Nouhad Machnouk for failing to deal with a protracted trash crisis that saw garbage spilling out of dumpsters in Beirut and Mount Lebanon.

The campaign has demanded that authorities transfer the responsibility for waste management to the municipalities and follow through with Thursday's Cabinet decision to hand over owed funds to them.

In an updated post on Facebook, You Stink said that while they believe in the need to elect a president as soon as possible, it also sees that the main priority is for the election of a new Parliament that would represent the people so that a Lebanon's new president would not be elected by an illegitimate legislative body.



This man is 90 years old? What's his secret?

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad attends the protest rally in Kuala Lumpur August 29, 2015

The photo is at Asia Times to accompany its posting of an August 29 Reuters report, Pressure mounts on Malaysian PM as protests spill into second day.

The man could be in his 60s, but Reuters says he's 90.  Lemme visit Wikipedia just to make sure.  [taptaptaptap]  

Yuppers, he's 90; born July 10, 1925.  Wow. That is the most well-preserved 90 year old I've ever seen. He seems to be a perfectly awful man in some respects, from my glance at the Wiki article, but I still want to know what he eats and what face cream he uses. And the name of his plastic surgeon, if he has one.  

I wonder if those are his own teeth, too.  

The Reuters photo is not a fluke, from a 2007 photo of him at Wikipedia: 

And here's another photo of him at the rally yesterday.  Somehow I don't think he brought a makeup artist with him.  

He doesn't seem to be in a wheelchair. As to whether he's using a cane -- the rally photos don't show, but clearly he could stand without one in his early 80s. Look at that posture in the 2007 photo.  And it seems he was standing for quite some time at the Saturday rally.

Well, his surprise attendance at the rally did not make the ethnic Malays happy, at least according to The Malaysian Insider, which posted the above photo. But from what I read at Wiki Dr Mahathir has always been highly controversial. Clearly he's thrived on it. 

He is a medical doctor. Maybe he concocted a special nostrum.  All right, Pundita, let's let it go. Now I wonder if he's ever had a sick day in his life. Pundita!  


For the moment Bangkok Post has the most authoritative report on captured Bangkok bombings suspect UPDATED 4:25am EDT

UPDATE 4:25am EDT August 30

From a BBC report, 3:55am EDT Aug 30:
Police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri said the man "is a culprit in the same network" as those behind the blast.
'Personal feud'
But national police chief Somyot Pumpanmuang downplayed any suggestion that the suspect was connected to terrorism.
"He is a foreigner, but it's unlikely he is an international terrorist. It's a personal feud," Mr Somyot told a televised news conference.
"He got angry on behalf of his friends and family members," he added without elaborating.
Police arrest Erawan bomb suspect (Updated Sunday)

I'm not going to bother to quote the extensive report, which conflicts with other news sources in various details including how the police nabbed the suspect. But this does look like the most informative and authoritative report to be published so far.

A Reuters report filed at 12:07 EDT August 30 adds a few details that can be thrown onto the pile of data bits.  


Captured suspect in Bangkok bombings NOT the suspect in police sketch OR shown in CCTV footage UPDATED 2X

UPDATE 4:25am EDT August 30

From a BBC report, 3:55am EDT Aug 30:

Police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri said the man "is a culprit in the same network" as those behind the blast.
'Personal feud'
But national police chief Somyot Pumpanmuang downplayed any suggestion that the suspect was connected to terrorism.
"He is a foreigner, but it's unlikely he is an international terrorist. It's a personal feud," Mr Somyot told a televised news conference.
"He got angry on behalf of his friends and family members," he added without elaborating.

UPDATE 2:00 AM EDT August 30 
For the moment Bangkok Post has the most authoritative report on the captured Bangkok bombings suspect:

Police arrest Erawan bomb suspect (Updated Sunday)

I'm not going to bother to quote the extensive report, which conflicts with other news sources in various details including how the police nabbed the suspect. But this does look like the most informative and authoritative report to be published so far.

Reuters report filed at 12:07 EDT August 30 adds a few details that can be thrown onto the pile of data bits.  
From CNN:
"However, he is not the man in a yellow T-shirt and dark-framed glasses who was identified from surveillance video as the chief suspect in the bombing, Prawut said. "The man we have is not the man in the sketch, but we believe he is part of the network which carried out the two bomb incidents," he said."
Well.  That explains why the captured suspect looks nothing like the police sketch OR the person in the CCTV footage.  

More from the CNN report: 

"Prawut initially said the suspect arrested Saturday was a Turkish national. But he subsequently told CNN: "At first we thought he is Turkish. But we just found out two Turkish passports he is holding are all fake.

"We also found many empty fake passports, also various kinds of evidences."

Prawut said investigators hunting for clues had "also found the same type of ball bearings in this man's apartment." [that were packed into the bombs]

High ranking police officers, forensic experts and army personnel were all seen outside the building shortly after news of the arrest broke.

The apartment is in the Nong Jok suburb, an area known to house a large Muslim community."

The Sydney Morning Herald contains the following information in addition to its backgrounder on the Grey Wolves, who are now suspected of possible involvement with the Bangkok bombings (Bangkok bombing: Who are the Turkish terrorist group the Grey Wolves?):
Thai police have been searching for Turkish nationals who arrived in Thailand in the 15 days before a blast tore through foreign tourists and Thais at the Erawan shrine on August 17, killing 20 people and injuring more than 120 others in an unprecedented attack.
But their breakthrough in the investigation came when residents of a predominantly Muslim district of Bangkok on Saturday reported to police the suspicious activities of a non-Thai speaking man renting five rooms in a seedy, four-storey apartment block.
After more than 100 police surrounded the building they found a man believed to 28 years old in a room with a stack of false passports and bomb making equipment similar to that used in the shrine bombing, including ball bearings, pipes and fuses.
The bearded man with short cropped hair has been charged with possession of bomb making material and is being held in a Thai military base pending further investigation.
Anthony Davis, a respected Bangkok-based security analyst with IHS-Jane's, said last week the Grey Wolves were likely to be behind the bombing because they had both motive and capability, although he did not rule out other possibilities.
"They are violent and operate below the radar," he said.
Mr Davis also said the group had "latched onto in a big way" Uighur Muslims in western China who claim they have suffered years of persecution from Beijing.
Thailand infuriated the Uighur movement in July when the country deported to China 109 Uighur men who had been separated from their wives and children.
Ethnic-Chinese tourists appear to have been targets of the shrine bombers. Mr Davis described the Bangkok attack as potentially the nightmare that has worried security agencies, a link-up between terrorism and organized crime. "
The Grey Wolves as the report explains, are strongly linked to organized crime.   
Tony Cartalucci is probably still very suspicious of the Grey Wolves theory, which he lambasted when it was first published, on Aug 25 (BREAKING: Jane's Analyst Implicates NATO Terror Group in Bangkok Blast), along with the Forbes magazine report on the Grey Wolves theory. 

From Tony's analysis it does seem there are a few holes in the Grey Wolves theory, and in particular this:
The [Erawan shrine] bombing also follows a February double bombing just down the street in the popular Siam shopping district - both incidents involving nearly identical bombs and using identical means to put them in place before they detonated.
Forbes' attempt to portray the "Grey Wolves" as being behind the blasts in Bangkok include several obvious omissions. First, the Siam bombings in February occurred months before the alleged slight the "Grey Wolves" supposedly attacked Bangkok for last week. Uyghurs Thailand detained were extradited to China in July, months after the Siam blasts. Forbes and the "experts" they cite never so much as mention the Siam bombings.
But we'll just have to wait and see. 

Saturday, August 29

Monsanto hits on a clever plan to kill off the human race

"This is not theoretical. A lack of genetic diversity in Irish potatoes in the 1800s, for example, likely exacerbated the potato famine that killed an estimated one in eight Irish.  

"More recently, the widespread corn blight in the US in 1970, estimated to have reduced yields by 20%-25% across the country, is largely attributed to the fact that approximately 85%-90% of the corn grown in the US at that time had a gene that made the corn easier to breed, but also — unbeknownst to farmers—made it susceptible to a fungus that until then had been considered a minor disease."

I always knew Monsanto's heart was in the right place; by gum they're gonna save the planet from the human scourge if it's the last thing they do -- and it looks as if it will be the last thing. 

And there are still people who refuse to believe we're descended from monkeys. But no, no, it's not from monkeying around in the lab although there's plenty of that disscussed in the report. You have to read past the passages about the designer broccoli to get to the really interesting part. It's the Monsanto business model that is on track to put the human race out of commission. 

However, the most annoying aspect of the apocalypse is that there will be nobody left alive to launch a class action law suit against Monsanto.  

Well, a big thanks to Deena Shankar for the report although in this case forewarned won't stop Monsanto.  

Monsanto’s super-broccoli shouldn’t scare you, but its plans for global vegetable domination might
by Deena Shankar
August 28, 2015


By helping farmers multiply their yields of corn and soy—and restricting the kind of business they could do with its competitors—Monsanto turned itself into a grain superpower. Doing the same in vegetables will not only give the company even greater economic and political clout but could also limit genetic diversity and global food security.

Monsanto likes to downplay its size. “We sometimes get a lot more credit for being bigger than we are,” Fraley said, drawing comparisons to market dominators like Apple in technology or Coca-Cola and Pepsi in soft drinks. “We’re probably way less than 10% of the global seed market.” Other estimates say Monsanto’s share of that market is about one quarter or as much as one third (paywall).

Whatever the size of its share, though, Monsanto’s increasing influence in that market is undeniable. A 2009 investigation by the Associated Press said the “world’s biggest seed developer” was “squeezing competitors, controlling smaller seed companies and protecting its dominance over the multibillion-dollar market for genetically altered crops.”

It found Monsanto’s patented genetics were in 95% of the US’s soybean crops and 80% of its corn. (Monsanto told Quartz that “competition is extremely robust in the seed industry” and that it “must work to earn a farmer’s business each and every year.”)

The company tamped down its anticompetitive practices once attorneys general in states like Iowa and Texas started investigating them in 2007 (with the US Department of Justice following their lead in 2009), as Lina Khan of the New America Foundation wrote for Salon in 2013. But, Khan told Quartz, “the damage is already done.” As its recent SEC filing explains, the framework for Monsanto’s sales is now set. Much as it did with commodity crops, the company says its plans for vegetables are to “continue to pursue strategic acquisitions in our seed businesses… expand our germplasm library, and strengthen our global breeding programs.” Thanks to the “multiple-channel sales approach” it has used for corn and soybeans, it says, it has a built-in advantage in this market.

“This is an industry that used to be very competitive,” Philip Howard, who does research on the food industry at Michigan State University, told Quartz. “In the 70s there were thousands of seed companies,” he said, but now, as his chart on the Seed Industry Structure shows, a few large companies own nearly all of the small ones. [See Quartz website for chart.]

Control through IP

One way that Monsanto has exerted and benefited from its increasingly consolidated control is through intellectual property. When Monsanto patents a seed, the Associated Press showed, it gets a say in nearly everything a farmer wants to do with it. Monsanto contracts, for example, “effectively lock out competitors” from adding their own patented traits to any crops with Monsanto’s genes, which for corn and soy in the US, is nearly all of them.

“What gives me pause about [Beneforté] coming from Monsanto is their approach to intellectual property,” said Jim Myers, a professor of vegetable breeding and genetics at Oregon State University. “I’m an old-school breeder and what I see is that when people start using patents and business models like this to tie up the germplasm, it prevents the overall progress in a particular field.”

Fraley, unsurprisingly, disagrees with Myers’ assessment, arguing that Monsanto has actually helped progress. “We license our technology to well over 200 companies around the world,” Fraley said, referring to all of its technology, not just its vegetable seeds. “We have gone way out of our way to build a business based on open architecture and broad licensing.”

But Monsanto does patent its vegetables and their traits, as it does for its genetically-modified soy and corn. (Licensing for vegetable seed technologies is actually available through an online portal.) And the company confirmed that at least some of those restrictions will be enforced with vegetables like Beneforté. “The Beneforté broccoli seed that growers plant is a special hybrid seed,” a Monsanto spokesperson told Quartz over email. “It is not standard practice for commercial vegetable farmers to save and replant seeds, especially not with hybrid seed.”

Why genetic diversity matters

“Most of the food for mankind comes from a small number of crops and the total number is decreasing steadily,” agronomist Jack Harlan wrote in his book Crops and Man in 1975. “More and more people will be fed by fewer and fewer crops.”

Forty years later, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences quoted those lines and agreed: “The rate of movement toward homogeneity in food supply compositions globally continues with no indication of slowing.”

This increasing homogeneity is often traced back to the Green Revolution, a period between the 1940s and 1960s when high-yielding varieties of grains —and other advents of modern agriculture like synthetic fertilizers and modern irrigation systems — completely changed the way food was grown. 

While it is often credited with saving a billion people from starvation, the Green Revolution also preceded a fall in diversity in crop production. (Other causes, like an increasingly globalized food system, are also thought to have contributed.)

In 1991, the New York Times warned (paywall) that “the diverse varieties of traditional crops and wild plants they need to breed more productive new strains are in jeopardy.” By 2000, when the loss of genetic diversity was considered a given, the UN said the main reason for it was “the replacement of local varieties by improved or exotic varieties and species.” In 2005, the US Department of Agriculture published a report attributing the decline to several factors, including “the dominance of scientifically bred [crops] over farmer-developed varieties.”

If Monsanto repeats the domination it has achieved in corn and soy with broccoli and other vegetables, restrictions on breeding and a loss of genetic diversity seem inevitable, even with Monsanto funding seed libraries and licensing its genetics. This might not sound like a major problem, but it could be one day.

“Everybody in the country growing the same variety of broccoli because it’s the hot new thing may not be a good long-term plan,” said Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food and Water Watch, a non-profit organization that advocates for healthy food and clean water. Different varieties, she said, “might come in handy if the climate changes.” A 2010 UN report agrees with that assessment, as do other experts.

“Less diversity in seeds makes us more vulnerable to drought and pests and any number of factors,” said Howard. Or, as Tony Sarsam, CEO of Ready Pac Produce, described agriculture: “God is very active in our business.”

This is not theoretical. A lack of genetic diversity in Irish potatoes in the 1800s, for example, likely exacerbated the potato famine that killed an estimated one in eight Irish. More recently, the widespread corn blight in the US in 1970, estimated to have reduced yields by 20%-25% across the country, is largely attributed to the fact that approximately 85%-90% of the corn grown in the US at that time had a gene that made the corn easier to breed, but also —unbeknownst to farmers — made it susceptible to a fungus that until then had been considered a minor disease.

Even without an act of God, diversity is important for the food industry. Bulk buyers rely on it to find the best varieties, depending on their needs. While one might be looking for the best apples for cutting, another might be looking for the longest lasting, while yet another wants the apple that is the sweetest. Reducing the available varieties of a kind of produce will necessarily limit how that produce can be sold.

Monsanto doesn’t appear to be worried that Beneforté will cause the variety of broccoli seeds to dwindle. Its plant breeders “breed in natural resistance to certain pests and/or diseases” and the company “sells dozens of different broccoli products to meet the needs of different growing regions and consumer preferences around the world,” a Monsanto spokesperson said. “We are also one of many other vegetable seed companies that develop broccoli seeds. Farmers have many choices when it comes to the broccoli seeds they purchase and plant.”

The spokesperson also pointed to Monsanto’s investment in gene banks, including one in Woodland, California that preserve “rare and extensive collection of vegetable seeds from around the world.”



Beirut: You Stink campaign, Round 2. "If we stay home they will rule for another 25 years"

"It is seen as the biggest protest movement in Lebanon's history organized independently of the sectarian parties that dominate politics."

The YouStinkers lost Round 1 but they came roaring back for the second round.

   Thousands rally today in anti-government protest in Martyrs' Square in downtown Beirut


Thousands rally in Beirut against political leaders, rot
Sat Aug 29, 2015 1:37pm EDT

Thousands of protesters waving Lebanese flags and chanting "revolution" took to the streets of Beirut on Saturday for an unprecedented mobilization against sectarian politicians they say are incompetent and corrupt.

The "You Stink" protest campaign, ignited by a waste crisis, has widened to reflect anger at widely-perceived graft in the political class and the state's failure to provide basic services.

It is seen as the biggest protest movement in Lebanon's history organized independently of the sectarian parties that dominate politics.

"We need a revolution to free ourselves from these politicians," said Hani Abu Hamdan, a 23-year-old unemployed civil engineer.

"We want power, we want water, we don't want rubbish in the streets. We want these politicians to get lost."

Protesters mobilized after the government failed to agree on trash disposal, leaving piles of refuse stinking in the summer sun. Protesters say the crisis reflects the rot inside Lebanon's political system.

Similar protests descended into violence last weekend and Prime Minister Tammam Salam threatened to resign, a move that could tip the state struggling with political deadlock and spillover from Syria into deeper turmoil.

Protesters, including families and people of all ages marched, played music and sang as they protested in areas around Martyrs' Square, the scene mass demonstrations in 2005 after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

By nightfall the area took on the atmosphere of a huge street party as soldiers watched the crowds from newly-erected barricades.

"People want the downfall of the regime" chanted groups of marching protesters, employing the slogan of mass movements that shook the Arab world in 2011.

Campaigners are calling for the environment minister to resign, for snap parliamentary elections and a resolution to the garbage crisis. They want better public services in a country with daily electricity cuts and summer water shortages.

They are also frustrated with the parliament that has extended its own term until 2017. Lebanon has been without a president for more than a year and the last parliamentary polls took place in 2009.


One protester held aloft a sign showing pictures of leaders of six of the main Lebanese factions reading: "We will not elect you again, and all of you means all of you."

Another sign read: "You failed in running the country, you failed in running worship, you succeeded at theft and corruption."

The garbage crisis has exposed wider political deadlock in Lebanon, where sectarian and power rivalries have been intensified by the Syrian conflict next door, more than two decades after Lebanon's own civil war.

Salah Noureddine, a Lebanese national who traveled from Britain to take part in the protest, said it was time to remove "the corrupted system we inherited after the civil war".

"If we stay at home, they will rule for another 25 years or more," he said.

Amnesty International said on Saturday Lebanon should investigate allegations that security personnel used excessive force to disperse protesters in Beirut last week, calling for restraint ahead of the new rally.

Organizers blamed last weekend's violence on "infiltrators" linked to political movements. Security forces last week fired water cannon and tear gas at demonstrators, some of whom threw stones and sticks at riot police.

Amnesty, quoting figures from the Red Cross, said at least 343 people were treated for injuries and 59 more were hospitalized last week.

(Additional reporting by Tom Perry, Ali Abdallah and Ahmed Bayasli; Editing by Andrew Roche and Raissa Kasolowsky)


Now is all this citizen foment leading anywhere?  Well, yesterday Lebanon's Daily Star reported that the country's PM had asked his Turkish counterpart for help in resolving the garbage crisis. So Turkey is sending some of their technocrats to Beirut to ponder the situation and make recommendations.     

Now for a recap of Round 1, which I wrote on August 27:

Residents cover their noses as they walk past garbage piled up along a street in Beirut, Lebanon
August 26, 2015. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

A reporter for the Daily Beast wrote a few days ago that the garbage had been cleaned up in Beirut. Maybe briefly and in some parts of the city but anyhow it's baaaaaaack.

So I don't know what happened to the new contract the government signed with a company to clean up the garbage although the problem would remain the same no matter which company was hired:  where to put the garbage once it's collected.  I just know this is a great photoshopped picture:

Translation courtesy of the Beeb:  "The tweet reads 'This is what planes will look like at the Rubbish International Airport #YouStink'"

The rest, I'm afraid, is terribly unclear to me and I'm not sure it's terribly clear to the Lebanese, either. This on account of they don't want to deal with the fact that they have a fundamental problem if they want a functioning government. So even without the control that Iran's military exerts over the government, they can't get there from here.  

The BBC spelled it out in an August 19 analysis by Carine Torbey, filing for BBC Arabic from Beirut (Lebanon wracked by political dysfunction):
Lebanon's political system
  • Political office in Lebanon is divided by a power-sharing agreement to ensure that the three major religious blocks - Shia, Sunni and Christian - are represented
  • The National Pact of 1943 established this division, declaring that the president must be Christian, the prime minister Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shia Muslim
  • The president is chosen by a two-thirds majority of parliament, or 85 of the legislature's 128 members
  • Several attempts in parliament have failed to agree on a consensus president, some of them because of a boycott by MPs
It's even more convoluted than she explains in her crash course.  From a Wall Street Journal report filed late this afternoon from Beirut by Matt Bradley and Dana Ballout (Anger Over Garbage in Lebanon Blossoms into Demands for Reform):
Even on the best of days, Lebanon’s government, made up of seven main political parties grouped in two opposing blocs, barely operates.
The country hasn’t had a president for more than a year. Legislative elections haven’t been held since 2009. Parliament is rarely able to achieve a quorum to conduct business, yet has renewed its mandate until 2017 on what many Lebanese say are dubious legal grounds.
The current government paralysis is partly the result of a political system constructed by quota.
Each cabinet position and parliamentary seat is distributed among Lebanon’s 18 officially recognized religions and sects, including Sunni Islam, Shiite Islam, Maronite Christians, Greek Orthodox Christians and followers of the ancient Druse faith.
“You have 18 different dictators, represented by the sectarian community,” Ms. Nassar said. “It’s by nature dysfunctional.”
As Torbey goes on to explain, the above means a vicious cycle is always in effect -- one that WSJ report makes very clear the Lebanese have been willing to live with up to this point because they've seen the only alternative to be civil war. It's just that the garbage crisis has made it impossible for Beiruters to improvise their way through the worst, as they've done with the city's water and electricity shortages.

Thus, a grassroots protest, a genuine grassroots protest by all accounts, which cuts across all the religious and political divides and is united under the banner of the "You Stink" campaign.  

The problem is that just because this is a non-sectarian protest led by the city's 'liberals' in the Western sense; i.e., people more concerned with good government than divvying up a political - religious pie, its influence is feared by the hyperpartisans -- and thus, feared by the elites and probably also by the external players (e.g., Iran) who've found the country's perennial political deadlocks to be useful.

The upshot:  YouStink's massive peaceful street protest last weekend was co-opted by violent renta-mobs, hired by whom -- the finger pointing is still going on.  And I wouldn't automatically assume the guilty party was Hezbollah. But there's no doubt about the government's response to the violence:

Workers unload concrete barriers to increase security, a day after protests against the government turned into violent clashes with police, near the government palace in Beirut, Lebanon August 24, 2015. Photo: REUTERS/MOHAMED AZAKIR

Spray-can artistes fought back by decorating the blast walls installed at Riad al-Solh Square to contain protesters. (Photo: The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban). 

But it was a defeat, or at least a setback for the grassroots campaign.  They called off another planned large-scale protest, although a few hundred congregated on Monday to commemorate those wounded in the weekend protests:
Hundreds return to Downtown Beirut after weekend violenceThe Daily Star (Lebanon)
August 24, 2015 - 9:13 PM
BEIRUT: Several hundred people gathered in downtown Beirut Monday in honor of those wounded during weekend clashes with security forces and to demand authorities be held accountable for police violence.
But the gathering was not a protest officially called on by the You Stink group, which organized Saturday and Sunday's evening rallies at Riad al-Solh Square.
Rather, the citizens who gathered in the square Monday appeared to have gone on their own initiatives, and it was unclear if the rioters who stirred violence at Sunday's rally would attempt to return.
You Stink wrote on its Facebook page that its supporters would gather at Riad al-Solh at 7:30 for a candlelight vigil, but the gathering did not resemble the massive protests that descended into violence over the weekend in which they demanded the government's resignation.
"We do not want to topple the government, nor are we calling for parliamentary elections. We just want electricity, water and to live in a clean environment," one man told Al-Manar TV from the protest square, in a dramatic shift of demands heard the previous two nights.
Another man had his head wrapped in a bandage, telling reporters that he was wounded during Sunday's protest. He said his injury did not deter him from returning.
"As much as they try to scare us, they [will fail]," said another man.
A couple hundred people from a group that called itself "Demanding Accountability" marched from the Justice Palace to Riad al-Solh.
A woman from the group told MTV that their march was organized to hold accountable those who were involved in the attacks that took place over the weekend.
The activists said they would march silently and light candles to support the wounded protesters. The movement also demanded the release of all detained demonstrators.
They also urged citizens to attend a separate protest Tuesday at Riad al-Solh Square at 6 p.m.
Riot police used water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters at Riad al-Solh Saturday. Protesters, angered by the police response, turned out in force again Sunday, in a largely peaceful protest that moved itself to Martyr's Square after some elements within the crowd began provoking police.
A smaller group, denounced by You Stink, remained in Riad al-Solh Sunday evening, hurling stones at security forces, setting fire and damaging property.
What now?  Unclear. The government has won round one, whether or not it was the culprit in the mustering of renta-mobs.  Round two is supposed to unfold this weekend in a large protest, although how the organizers plan to keep away the renta-mobs, I don't know. 

A guess would be that they get help from Hezbollah, which while very busy these days fighting in Syria for their Iranian paymasters is good at organizing and overseeing street protests, and from Daily Star report is supporting the YouStink campaigners, although whether this was the case earlier I don't know. 

I also want to mention a passage from the Wall Street Journal report that caused me to raise an eyebrow:
The latest crisis began in July after residents near a large landfill south of Beirut, worried about possible environmental hazards, blocked garbage trucks from unloading trash. Unable to locate an alternate dump site, authorities allowed trash to accumulate on Beirut’s streets.
That is not my understanding of what happened; I thought the landfill had been filled up, and that this was the reason the collectors tossed the garbage into the streets.  But I'll have to look into the situation further when I scrape together the time.  

I should also mention that the consensus from people the WSJ reporters interviewed is that at most the YouStink campaign it will bring about some reforms but not enough to repair the system: 
But even as Lebanese complain about their sectarian system, the country’s political establishment hews to it, said Firas Maksad, a Lebanese political analyst and founder of the Washington-based consultancy Global Policy Associates.
Even widely popular secular movements such as the “You Stink” campaign are unlikely to persuade voters to support candidates outside their own sect, Mr. Maksad said.
“I actually think that Lebanon’s archaic sectarian system is deep in patronage and corrupt, but it’s also an accurate reflection of Lebanese society,” he said. “I think the Lebanese with the garbage crisis are being forced to face their own rotten reality.”

Veteran activist Gilbert Doumit said he still plans to attend “You Stink” protests, though he said he is heartbroken by decades of failed overhaul efforts.

“I don’t have high hopes anymore for such movements,” he said. “I literally failed in every movement that I’ve been involved in. One of the symptoms of the political environment we’re living in now is my failure, and the failure of the people of my generation.”
We'll just have to wait and see how Round 2 goes.  But this August 27 report from Reuters, also filed late in the afternoon, doesn't bode well for real change. 

Lebanon's Hezbollah, Christian allies boycott government meeting

The Lebanese group Hezbollah and allied Christian politicians will boycott a cabinet meeting on Thursday, deepening a political crisis that has paralyzed Prime Minister Tammam Salam's national unity government.

Media run by Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) of Christian politician Michel Aoun, the Shi'ite group's main Christian ally, reported that Salam had been informed of the decision, but did not immediately give a reason for it.

Ministers from Hezbollah and Aoun's FPM walked out of a cabinet session on Tuesday. They are in dispute with other members of the government over issues including decrees passed without their approval.

The political conflict has obstructed efforts to find a solution to a crisis over waste disposal that has fueled public anger and triggered anti-government protests that brought thousands of people into the streets at the weekend.

The Salam government, formed last year, groups parties at opposite ends of the Lebanese political spectrum, including the Future Movement led by Sunni politician Saad al-Hariri, and Christian rivals to Aoun.

With the presidency vacant for more than a year, the Salam government has spared Lebanon a vacuum in the executive arm. But it has struggled to take even the most basic decisions.

(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Toby Chopra and Dominic Evans)