BANGKOK (AP) — It’s a whodunit worthy of a Dan Brown novel: a small bronze plaque commemorating Thailand’s 1932 revolution is ripped out from a very public place by parties unknown and substituted by one praising the Chakri Dynasty, whose 10th king took the throne in December. A disinclination by the authorities to find those responsible adds another element of mystery.
The original plaque, installed in 1936, marked the spot where a group of progressive army officers and civil servants proclaimed the end of the absolute monarchy in order to steer the country toward democracy.
“At this place, at dawn on June 24, 1932, we the People’s Party have given birth to the constitution for the progress of the nation,” is a translation of the words engraved on the brass disc.
The ideal still hasn’t taken hold. A royalist military government that took power in a coup three years ago still rules Thailand, and its newly enacted constitution aims to limit the power of elected officials and give it instead to institutions traditionally associated with the palace, including the courts, the civil service and the military.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said last week that he has ordered an investigation into the plaque’s disappearance, but warned against making a political issue of it.
He could understand why some people might be upset, he told reporters.
“But look at what we are doing today,” he said. “Would it be better for us to look ahead at the future? Old subjects are just history.”
The old plaque, about 30 centimeters (12 inches) in diameter and lying flush with the pavement, was embedded in Bangkok’s Royal Plaza, a vast open area in the midst of government buildings and military installations.
It was so neglected as a landmark that its disappearance could only be estimated to have taken place between April 3 and 7.
As a symbol of democratic change, however, it was revered. For the same reason, it was despised.
Debate on social media over the plaque’s disappearance has evoked a strong streak of antidemocratic sentiment, decrying the 1932 revolution for imposing unsuitable Western-style democracy causing corruption and all sorts of social ills; slamming the 1932 coup makers as evil; and even suggesting that the plaque was the physical incarnation of a curse on the nation.
Royalist resistance began almost immediately after the revolution, and slowly clawed back influence for the palace. By the late 1950s an accommodation was reached with the military, which sought its prestige, and by the late 1970s the constitutional monarchy was the country’s most powerful institution, inviolable under the protection of the army.
This balance of power began to unravel in 2001, when billionaire populist Thaksin Shinawatra used his fortune to win an unprecedented electoral majority and become prime minister. Thaksin, accused of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for the monarchy, was ousted by a military coup in 2006, setting off a sometimes violent struggle for power between his supporters and opponents, with the military strongly in the latter group.
Thaksin’s opponents saw democracy as the problem, and some identified the 1932 revolution as the original sin.
“It seems to me that the junta has come to the view that the problems associated with Thaksin and erasing his regime involves a more deep-rooted issue of dealing with the notion of people’s sovereignty that was embedded in the 1932 proclamation and first draft constitution,” said Kevin Hewison, a senior research fellow at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University.
“In this sense, the removal of the plaque is a symbolic act of delayed counterrevolution,” he said.
Although a fringe group of ultra-royalists openly vowed late last year to remove or destroy the plaque, there is plenty to fuel speculation of a higher-level conspiracy.
Photos purportedly taken at the plaza during the period the plaque went missing show scaffolding at the spot, more suggestive of a public works project than a thief in the night. City officials asked to produce surveillance videos from the 11 cameras at the plaza say they were shut for maintenance during the same period. Police said they could not accept a criminal complaint of theft except from the plaque’s owner, who was unknown. Pressed on the point, they threatened to sue an outspoken politician who suggested they weren’t doing their duties.
Prime Minister Prayuth’s suggestion that the case was a stone better left unturned was not idle advice. A government reform activist who sought to petition him on the matter was seized by soldiers and detained for 10 hours.
The plaque’s removal also coincided with the signing of the new constitution by King Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, who succeeded his late father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, last year.
Ploenpote Atthakor, editorial page editor of the Bangkok Post, saw an upside to the affair.
“In the case of the ill-fated plaque, the silver lining is that its sudden disappearance has triggered an interest in this particular period of Thai history like never before,” she wrote. “The people who removed it probably didn’t expect that.”
NEW YORK (AP) — Another day, another cellphone video of a conflict on an airplane.
American Airlines said it grounded a flight attendant who got into a verbal confrontation with a passenger on a Friday flight from San Francisco to Dallas-Fort Worth.
Spokeswoman Leslie Scott says the airline is looking into whether the male flight attendant violently took away a stroller from the female passenger just before she boarded a Friday flight from San Francisco to Dallas. He has been removed from duty in the meantime.
In an age of cellphone videos and social media, airlines are learning the hard way that it is essential to deescalate tense situations that occur during air travel, even as there are more passengers, less room and fewer flight attendants than ever before.
The incident comes less than two weeks after video of a man being violently dragged off a United Express flight sparked widespread outrage .
United initially blamed its passenger, Dr. David Dao, before finally apologizing days after the incident, fanning the public’s fury. American, by contrast, seems to have learned from United’s mistakes: it immediately said it was sorry, that it had grounded the flight attendant while it investigates the incident, and that it had upgraded the passenger involved and her family to first class.
“American doesn’t want to become the next United, but then, United didn’t want to become the next United,” said Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group. “No airline wants to be seen as being anti-consumer or anti-passenger.”
Smartphone cameras and social media are shifting power to consumers who can share customer relations gaffes with the world. They’re increasingly making confrontations with customer-facing staff headline news, making it harder for companies to sweep complaints under the rug. The faster companies own up to mistakes, the quicker they can start to do damage control.
American’s fast reaction to the incident could be helpful, said brand consultant Allen Adamson, CEO of BrandSimple.
“The quick reaction will prevent it from escalating further, but it won’t mitigate the perception among flyers that flying is becoming a less enjoyable experience every day,” he said.
Overall, airlines must start to put more of an emphasis on customer service, he said.
“It’s another example of airlines struggling to treat their passengers with the traditional ‘customer is always right’ attitude,” he said. “Good customer service is finding a way to deescalate a situation and he (the flight attendant) was throwing gasoline on it.”
Days after Dao was dragged off the United Express flight from Chicago to Kentucky to make room for airline crew, his lawyer spent a good part of a news conference railing against what he said was the industry-wide shabby treatment of airline passengers. Dao lost teeth, suffered a broken nose and received a concussion in the incident, which also was captured on video.
In the case of the American flight on Friday, a video that passenger Surain Adyanthaya posted on Facebook shows the sobbing woman holding a small child and saying, “You can’t use violence with baby.”
Later, an unidentified male passenger confronts the flight attendant, telling him, “You do that to me and I’ll knock you flat.” The flight attendant responds with, “Hit me. Bring it on.”
Another passenger on the flight, Olivia Morgan, told the New York Times that the flight attendant nearly hit the baby with the stroller when he jerked it away from the woman. Morgan, an executive with an education-related nonprofit, said when she complained about the woman’s treatment, the flight attendant pointed his finger in her face and yelled, “You stay out of it.”
Traveling is stressful under any circumstance, and conflict resolution training is an essential part of being a flight attendant, Harteveldt said.
“If airlines aren’t going to improve staffing or restore leg room for customers, they should at least provide flight attendants with better, more relevant training about how to handle these types of situations,” he said.
At the same time, passengers should also be respectful of flight attendants — who often work long hours on multiple flights — as well, he said.
A union that represents American Airlines flight attendants said in a statement that not all of the facts are known about the incident so there shouldn’t be a rush to judgment. If a passenger threatened a flight attendant, that would be a violation of federal law, said Bob Ross, president of The Association of Professional Flight Attendants.
“Air rage has become a serious issue on our flights,” he said in a statement. “We must obtain the full facts surrounding these incidents. Our passengers and the flight attendants deserve nothing less.”
Associated Press writer Juan Lozano in Houston contributed to this report.
Follow Mae Anderson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/maetron and follow Juan Lozano at https://twitter.com/juanlozano70 .
HOUSTON (AP) — The Latest on the confrontation on an American Airlines flight (all times local):
A passenger on an American Airlines flight says a flight attendant who has since been grounded nearly hit a baby when he jerked a stroller away from a woman holding the child.
Olivia Morgan, an executive with an education-related nonprofit, tells the New York Times (http://nyti.ms/2pQ17V5 ) that she witnessed the episode take place before a Friday afternoon flight from San Francisco to Dallas.
Morgan says when she complained about the woman’s treatment, the flight attendant pointed his finger in her face and yelled, “You stay out of it.”
A video of the incident posted on Facebook shows the sobbing woman holding a small child and saying, “You can’t use violence with a baby.” A male passenger later got in a verbal confrontation with the flight attendant.
American Airlines says it has grounded a flight attendant who got into a verbal confrontation with a passenger after the flight attendant took a baby stroller away from another passenger.
Spokeswoman Leslie Scott says the airline is looking into whether the male flight attendant violently took away the stroller from the female passenger just before she boarded a Friday flight from San Francisco to Dallas. He has been removed from duty in the meantime.
A video taken by a passenger and posted on Facebook shows the sobbing woman holding a small child and saying, “You can’t use violence with baby.”
Later, an unidentified male passenger confronts the flight attendant, telling him, “You do that to me and I’ll knock you flat.” The flight attendant responds with “Hit me. Bring it on.”
The incident comes less than two weeks after video of a man being violently dragged off a United Express flight sparked widespread outrage.
PARIS (AP) — A man with a knife has been arrested by police at Paris’ Gare du Nord station, sending a brief ripple of concern over social media a day before the French presidential vote. No one was injured.
A French police official told The Associated Press that a man carrying a knife walked into the station and was flagged to police, who arrested him immediately. Video online shows heavily armed police surrounding a prone man as travelers hurried past.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak publicly.
The Gare de Nord is one of the French capital’s top transit hubs, serving the city’s metro, suburban trains as well as intercity and high-speed trains like the Eurostar from London.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — In a story April 22 about entrepreneurs from the Middle East, in a section about one Saudi woman who stands out, The Associated Press misspelled her name. She is Manar Alomayri, not Manal Dhod.
A corrected version of the story is below:
A mobile app to track school buses, Arabic cooking videos on YouTube and even a portable bidet are finding support from governments in the Gulf as a slide in oil prices forces states to cull cushy public sector jobs and look to entrepreneurs to plug the gap.
Recent $1 billion valuations of local start-ups Careem, a ride-hailing app, and retailer Souq.com, which was acquired by Amazon in March, have raised interest in the region’s budding entrepreneurship scene. Both companies are headquartered in Dubai, an emirate with futuristic skyscrapers that is working to harness the power of the region’s majority young population with a minister of state for youth affairs who is a mere 22 years old.
Across the Arabian Peninsula, governments — hit hard by a sharp decline in oil prices since 2014 — are competing to attract and keep local entrepreneurs who might provide the region’s next “unicorn,” the industry term for startups that reach a valuation of a billion dollars.
Khaled Talhouni, the managing partner at venture capitalist firm Wamda Capital, says the negative headlines out of the Middle East have tended to overshadow the good, including the growing entrepreneurial spirit.
“There is a huge upswell of entrepreneurial activity happening on the ground, as evidenced by the recent acquisition of Souq by Amazon. And there are hundreds of companies beneath them, following them,” he said.
The Middle East is no Silicon Valley, though. For starters, Talhouni says that unlike the vast single market of the U.S., local entrepreneurs have to grapple with various customs regulations, laws, consumer preferences and norms across nearly two dozen different Arabic-speaking countries to reach the full Middle Eastern market.
Many of the tech startups are finding success by localizing ideas successfully started abroad, from Amazon to Uber.
YallaParking, for example, helps people find and rent parking spots.
“I think it is getting very competitive. What we tend to see, and people that we know, they’re bringing ideas from other places that are not necessarily here yet,” said co-founder and CEO Craig McDonald, a Scottish national who grew up in Dubai. “For example YallaParking: there are big companies around the world that do what we do, but no one was doing it here.”
Local government support for startups has mostly sprung out of a need to create jobs.
According to the World Economic Forum, the Middle East and North Africa needs to create 75 million jobs by 2020 just to keep employment close to current levels. Failing to do so could lead to slow economic growth and the kind of social unrest brought on by the Arab Spring protests of 2011.
“Unfortunately, the governments in general just recognized the importance of the entrepreneurship ecosystem,” said Mohamed al-Ruwais, a partner at STC Ventures, a venture capital fund whose anchor investor is the Saudi Telecom Company.
The kings and ruling sheikhs of the Gulf have so far ridden out the Arab Spring, but demographics and time are forcing governments to look to the private sector where creative startups and savvy entrepreneurs can provide an economic lifeline to future stability.
In one of the starkest examples of this region-wide push, Saudi Arabia’s powerful young defense minister and second-in-line to the throne, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is launching a university named after him this fall, in partnership with Massachusetts’ Babson College, focused on business and entrepreneurship training.
In Saudi Arabia, the Middle East’s biggest economy, half of the population is under 25 and around 70 percent is under 35, representing a rapidly-growing labor force.
The kingdom has launched a plan, called Vision 2030, with goals to shore up its foreign reserves and reform the economy for a new generation of tech-savvy youth. The plan specifically calls for encouraging innovation and improving regulation.
Despite efforts to lower unemployment from 11.6 percent today to 7 percent by 2030, unemployment has actually risen to 12.3 percent this year.
Saudi Prince Saud bin Khalid al-Faisal, who heads the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, says part of the reason why the kingdom sponsors the largest scholarship program on earth, with more than 200,000 students studying across the globe, is to give them a good education and expose them to different ideas.
“We also would like them to get bitten by the entrepreneurship bug, basically, so they can come back and start doing their own thing,” he said.
In the kingdom, where Saudi females represent only about 10 percent of the labor force, Manar Alomayri stands out as a female entrepreneur. She quit a good-paying job in the private sector to found Dhad Audio, an Arabic audio book publisher.
“Instead of waiting for someone to bring a solution for me, I decided to be the change, to bring about a change,” she said.
A Saudi government initiative funded her trip to Dubai and her booth at the recent Step Conference for entrepreneurs in Dubai. Another Saudi startup showcasing at the conference, also backed by this initiative, centers on an innovative design for a squirt bottle that functions as a portable and compact bidet for Muslim travelers.
Despite government efforts, the region still lacks a strong regulatory framework and enough accessible early-stage financing for many small businesses to succeed.
Alia Adi, a Syrian entrepreneur with a successful YouTube Arabic cooking network called Basmaty, says a Dubai government-backed initiative to assist startups, called In5, helped her save thousands of dollars on business licensing fees and work visas for employees. But she still faces a key challenge to expanding her business.
“There’s a lot of creativity. I don’t think we are lacking in that sector, but there’s definitely difficulties in terms of finding funding here in the Middle East,” she said.
Talhouni, of Wamda Capital, says the power of entrepreneurship is that it allows individuals to take control of their lives and economic future. That’s particularly relevant in the Gulf countries where, traditionally, the public sector is the preferred choice of work for locals.
“They are not beholden to the state, to anyone,” Talhouni says. “And that’s a very powerful movement that’s emerging in the Arab world.”
Associated Press writer Maggie Hyde contributed to this report.
Follow Aya Batrawy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ayaelb
SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — Authorities have arrested an 18-year-old Vermont student and charged him with making repeated death threats to students and staff at his school, causing three lockdowns and a cancellation of classes.
Josiah Leach, a student at South Burlington High School, was arrested Friday night at his home by the FBI and local police. He’s charged with transmitting threatening communications in interstate commerce.
Authorities say the threats were received this Tuesday through Friday by email, telephone and on Facebook. An FBI agent assigned to the cyber squad worked with local officials to track the messages, including one in a video on Facebook.
Leach is being held pending an appearance in federal court on Monday. It wasn’t immediately known if he’s represented by a lawyer who can comment on the charges.