News from Croatia, Thailand and Ukraine

Tuesday's World Events   —   Posted on December 3, 2013

CROATIA – Croatians vote to ban same-sex marriage

image1184A majority of Croatians voted in a referendum Sunday to ban gay marriages in what is a major victory for the Catholic Church-backed conservatives in the European Union’s newest nation. The country of 4.4 million, a staunchly Catholic nation, became EU’s 28th member in July.

The state electoral commission, citing initial results, said 65 percent of those who voted answered “yes” to the referendum question: “Do you agree that marriage is matrimony between a man and a woman?” About 34 percent voted against.

The result meant that Croatia’s constitution will be amended to ban same-sex marriage.

Liberal groups have said the referendum’s question infringes on basic human rights. Conservative groups disagree.  The Church-backed groups have gathered 750,000 signatures in its support.

The referendum was called by the “In the Name of the Family” conservative group after Croatia’s center-left government drafted a law to let gay couples register as “life partners.”

The Catholic Church leaders have urged their members to vote “yes” in the referendum. Nearly 90 percent of Croatians are Roman Catholics.

“Marriage is the only union enabling procreation,” Croatian Cardinal Josip Bozanic said in his message to the followers. “This is the key difference between a marriage and other unions.”

Several hundred gay rights supporters marched in the capital, Zagreb, on Saturday urging a “no” vote. …

Croatia’s liberal President Ivo Josipovic said he will vote against amending the constitution. “We don’t need this kind of a referendum,” Josipovic said. “Defining marriage between a man and a woman doesn’t belong to the constitution. A nation is judged by its attitude toward minorities.” …

The EU (European Union) hasn’t officially commented on the referendum, but has clashed with Croatia over some of its other laws, including an extradition law that has prevented its citizens from being handed over to the bloc’s other member states, which Croatia had to amend under pressure from Brussels.

THAILAND – Prime Minister Rejects Protesters Resignation Demand

image1185Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has rejected protesters’ demands that she step down, amid fresh clashes in Bangkok. Ms. Yingluck said the demands were not possible under the constitution, but that she remained open to talks.

Anti-government demonstrators have been calling on Ms. Yingluck to step down, with protest leader and former opposition politician Suthep Thaugsuban saying on Sunday that Prime Minister Yingluck should resign within the next “two days.”

The protesters want to replace the government with an unelected “People’s Council,” alleging Ms. Yingluck’s government is controlled by her brother, ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra. Mr. Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006 that left the country bitterly divided.  Ms. Yingluck’s government, which has broad support outside the capital, took office after winning elections in 2011. But the protesters allege that Mr. Thaksin runs the government from overseas exile and accuse the current administration of using populist policies that are hurting Thailand’s economy to remain in power.

The protests, which began on November 24, had been largely peaceful until Saturday, when they became violent. Demonstrators tried to break apart police barricades and storm the prime minister’s office, with police using tear gas and water cannon to repel them.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra

On Monday, protesters returned to the streets again and more clashes occurred, although correspondents said that demonstrator numbers appeared lower than before. …

Paradorn Pattanathabutr, head of Thailand’s National Security Council, told Reuters news agency that security forces were “alternating between the use of water cannons, teargas and rubber bullets.” “Rubber bullets are being used in one area only and that is the bridge near [the Prime Minister’s office] Government House,” he added.

Several schools and universities have closed, citing security concerns. Around 60 schools in Bangkok, as well as the main UN office, were shut, the AP news agency added.

Four people have died in this latest protest – Thailand’s worst political turmoil since the 2010 rallies that ended in violence. …

UKRAINE – Protesters Oppose President’s Close Ties with Russia

ukraine-protestUkrainian protesters blockaded the main government building in Kiev on Monday, seeking to force President Viktor Yanukovich from office with a general strike after hundreds of thousands demonstrated against his decision to abandon an EU integration pact.

Demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday, which saw violent clashes with the police, drew as many as 350,000 people, the biggest public rally in the ex-Soviet state since the “Orange revolution” against [corruption] and electoral fraud nine years ago.

Ukraine is divided between those who see stability in close ties with Russia and those who look westwards and see a more prosperous future with the European Union (EU). Since his election in February 2010, Yanukovich has sought to straddle the divide, reassuring Ukrainians he could pursue close ties with Europe while managing relations with Moscow.

image1186Even some supporters were shocked by the abruptness with which Yanukovich’s government announced it was suspending work on a long-awaited pact with the EU in favor of reviving economic ties with Russia. Scenes over the weekend of police beating demonstrators hardened opinion against him.

“Yanukovich will do whatever Putin tells him to do,” said Oleksander, 49, on Kiev’s Independence Square, where protesters are setting up tented camps in preparation for a long campaign.

“He’s been losing his legitimacy for a long time. His decision to send police in to beat up children was the last straw,” said Oleksander, adding he had voted for Yanukovich in the past and had joined the president’s Party of the Regions.

(The news briefs above are from wire reports and staff reports posted at London’s Daily Telegraph on Dec. 1, BBC News on Dec. 2 and Reuters on Dec. 2.)

Questions

1. For each of the 3 countries, provide the following information:

a) capital:

b) location/the countries that share its borders:

c) the religious breakdown of the population:

d) the type of government:

e) the chief of state (and head of government if different) [If monarch or dictator, since what date has he/she ruled? – include name of heir apparent for monarch]:

f) the population:

[Find the answers at the CIA World FactBook website. For each country, answers can be found under the “Geography” “People” and “Government” headings.  Go to worldatlas.com for maps and a list of continents.]

NOTE: Before answering the questions below, read the info under “Background.” 

2. For CROATIA:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Define referendum.
c) What effect will the outcome of the referendum have on the law in Croatia?
d) How many Croatians marched in Zagreb opposing the referendum question that marriage is matrimony between a man and a woman?

3. For THAILAND:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) What started the protests? (see “Background” below the questions for the answer)

4. For UKRAINE:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Which country controlled Ukraine for centuries?


Free Answers — Sign-up here to receive a weekly email with answers.

Background

THAILAND:

Thailand has been hit by major protests after three years of relative calm. The BBC looks at the factors behind the protests and what the demonstrators want:

What started the protests?
Demonstrations kicked off in November after Thailand’s lower house passed a controversial amnesty bill, which critics said could allow former leader Thaksin Shinawatra to return without serving time in jail.

Mr. Thaksin, one of the most polarizing characters in Thai politics, was ousted in a military coup in 2006. He now lives in self-imposed exile overseas, but remains popular with many rural voters.

The amnesty bill, which was proposed by his sister Yingluck Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai Party, was eventually rejected by the Senate. However, anti-government protests have continued.

Who are the protesters?
The protesters are united by their opposition to Mr Thaksin, and their belief that he is still controlling the current Pheu Thai government.

The demonstrations are being led by Suthep Thaugsuban, a former Thai deputy prime minister who resigned from the opposition Democrat Party to lead the rallies.

The protesters tend to be urban and middle class voters.

Around 100,000 opposition supporters rallied in Bangkok on November 24, although turnout has since dropped. The protests were largely peaceful for the first week but turned deadly when violence broke out near a pro-government red-shirt rally on Saturday, killing four people.

What do the protesters want?
The demonstrators have surrounded and occupied government buildings in an attempt to disrupt government and force Pheu Thai to step down.

Mr. Suthep and his supporters say they want to wipe out the “political machine of Thaksin” and install an unelected “people’s council” to pick the country’s leaders.

They say the government “bought votes” in the last election through irresponsible spending pledges.

What will happen next?
The protesters have vowed to continue their street rallies. However, it is not clear where these will lead.

Ms. Yingluck’s Pheu Thai party still commands significant support, especially with rural voters.

Pheu Thai also has a majority in the lower house, where Ms. Yingluck survived a censure motion put forward by the opposition on Thursday.

It is thought that the party would win if it called a general election right now, although Ms. Yingluck has told the BBC that she does not intend to call an early election to address the crisis.

She has also said that she would not authorize the use of force against the protesters.

Some reports suggest that the demonstrators will have to disperse before December 5, when the country celebrates its monarch’s birthday.

What impact will the protests have?
Ms. Yingluck has warned that further protests could cause the “economy to deteriorate.”

Protests in 2008 and 2010 hit Thailand’s economy hard, especially the business and tourism sectors.

It is not clear what impact the current protests will have. However, several countries have issued travel warnings for Thailand. (from bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-25149484)

  • UKRAINE:

    What caused the protests?
    The trigger was the government’s decision not to sign a far-reaching partnership deal with the EU, despite years of negotiations aimed at integrating Ukraine with the 28-nation bloc.

    That decision was announced on 21 November – and it meant that an EU summit with former Soviet states on 28-29 November was a big disappointment for the EU.

    Thousands of pro-EU Ukrainians poured onto the streets of the capital – on 24 November the crowd was estimated at more than 100,000. They urged President Viktor Yanukovych to cancel his U-turn and go ahead with the EU deal after all. But he refused, and the protests continue.

    Anger with President Yanukovych has escalated, and now protesters are demanding that he and his government resign.

    Who are the protesters?
    Probably the best-known among them internationally is Vitali Klitschko, a world heavyweight boxing champion turned opposition leader. He heads the Udar (Punch) movement and plans to run for president in 2015. Udar is campaigning for a “modern country with European standards” – that is, loosening ties with Russia and strengthening them with the EU.

    An ultra-nationalist group called Svoboda (Freedom) is also protesting. Its leader is Oleh Tyahnybok.

    Between Mr. Tyahnybok and Mr. Klitschko stands Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland’s former prime minister and now opposition leader. Historically Poland has vied with Russia for influence in Ukraine. Western Ukraine used to be part of Poland, and cultural and religious ties remain strong (they share the Catholic faith). Most western Ukrainians feel close to the West and suspicious of Russia. Poland is a strong voice in the EU urging the bloc to embrace Ukraine.

    One of the most important Ukrainian protesters is Arseniy Yatsenyuk, leader of Ukraine’s second biggest party, called Fatherland. He is an ally of Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister now in jail, who is an arch-rival of President Yanukovych.

    Is Russia keeping President Yanukovych in power?
    To many observers it looks that way, because Russia exerted strong economic pressure on Ukraine in the run-up to Mr. Yanukovych’s abrupt snub to the EU.

    Russia took various economic measures – including time-consuming border checks and a ban on Ukrainian sweets – and threatened others. Ukraine is in a long-running dispute with Moscow over the cost of Russian gas, on which it is heavily reliant. Many Ukrainian firms – especially in the country’s Russian-speaking east – also rely on sales to Russia.

    Mr. Yanukovych still has a strong support base in eastern Ukraine, and there have been street demonstrations by his supporters.

    For centuries Ukraine was controlled by Moscow and many Russians see Ukraine as vital to Russian interests. (from bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-25182823)

    Resources

    Ukraine protesters tell euronews why they are taking part: