Russia retaliates with grain blockade. Three dead in Auckland shooting. US and China talk as world burns. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Thai establishment blocks prime ministerial frontrunner

A politician in a suit surrounded by cameramen.
Pita Limjaroenrat, the leader of the Move Forward Party, arrives at the parliament in Bangkok this month.
Credit: Lauren DeCicca / Getty Images

Great power rivalry

Ukraine: Russia launched missile and drone strikes on cities across Ukraine to retaliate against an attack on Monday night by Ukrainian special forces on a bridge that links Crimea to the Russian mainland.

An official in Kyiv confirmed Ukrainian navy and special forces used a drone boat to bomb a section of the bridge, which serves as a supply line for the Russian military and is a symbolic testament to President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to control Crimea, which he seized and annexed in 2014. Two people were killed in the bombing.

Hours after the bridge explosion, Moscow withdrew from a deal that allows Russia and Ukraine to safely export grain through the Black Sea. Aid groups warned that blocking grain supplies from the two countries – the source of more than a quarter of the world’s wheat – could affect millions of the world’s poorest people.

Moscow denied its move was linked to the bridge attack, saying the grain deal was not properly ensuring Russia could export grain and fertiliser supplies. But the attack prompted Russia to launch a “mass revenge strike” on Ukrainian port cities, including heavy strikes on Odesa.

In eastern Ukraine, intense fighting continued this week but both sides made only minor advances in different areas, according to British intelligence.

On Tuesday, Russia’s parliament raised the maximum age at which men could be called to serve in the military. High-ranking officers in the reserve forces can now be mobilised if they are up to 70 years old, compared with a previous maximum age of 65.

The neighbourhood

New Zealand: On Thursday, a 24-year-old man armed with a pump-action shotgun killed two people and injured six others as he made his way through a building site in Auckland before being killed during a shootout with police.

The shooting, which began about 7.20am, brought the city to a standstill and occurred ahead of the opening match of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Auckland.

The gunman was later identified by local media as Matu Tangi Matua Reid, who had recently been sentenced to five months’ home detention on domestic violence charges. Police said he had worked at the construction site and was not licensed to carry a shotgun.

A man who was inside the building during the shooting told reporters the gunman “looked like he was looking for someone”.

New Zealand police commissioner Andrew Coster told reporters: “This has been a shocking and traumatic event. For those who remained trapped, this was a terrifying experience.”

It is not known whether the gunman was killed by police or took his own life.

Chris Hipkins, the prime minister, said the shooting was not believed to have had any ideological or political motivation.

“There is no national security factor that has been identified here,” he said.

“Clearly with the FIFA World Cup kicking off this evening, there are a lot of eyes on Auckland. Those watching around the world can be assured that the police have neutralised the threat.”

Democracy in retreat

Thailand: Pita Limjaroenrat has been blocked by Thailand’s conservative establishment from becoming prime minister despite his Move Forward Party winning the most seats at an election in May and heading a coalition that has a strong majority in the lower house.

A joint session of parliament voted on Wednesday to prevent Pita from being nominated prime minister. The vote followed Pita’s failed attempt last week to become prime minister after the 249-person senate – whose members are appointed by the military – largely opposed him. Pita needed 375 votes to secure a majority of parliamentarians – including the senators and the 500 lower house MPs – but won only 324. He hoped to stand again on Wednesday but was barred from running by a vote of 395-312.

The military and royalist establishment largely opposes Move Forward’s agenda, which includes plans to amend a law that effectively makes it illegal to criticise the royal family. Move Forward also wants to reduce the influence of the military, which has staged multiple coups since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

A second round of voting for the prime minister’s role will be held on Thursday, July 27.

Pheu Thai, a party that was in coalition with Move Forward but is viewed as less reformist, is expected to put forward a candidate. The pro-military establishment has previously toppled Pheu Thai prime ministers but may now support its candidate after blocking Pita.

In an Instagram post on Wednesday, Pita said: “In the current system, winning public approval is not enough to run the country.”

Spotlight: US and China talk as world burns

Europe, China and the United States faced record-breaking heatwaves this week, as Canada battled its worst bushfires and torrential rains struck South Korea, leaving stunned residents across the northern hemisphere struggling against an unrelenting and changing climate.

The scorching heat prompted workers at the Acropolis in Athens – where the temperature exceeded 45 degrees – to strike due to concerns about their safety, while Tokyo Disneyland suspended some events as 60 people across Japan suffered heatstroke. The city of Phoenix, Arizona, experienced its 19th day above 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius) – a record – while temperatures in Sicily reached 46 degrees and bushfires broke out in Greece, Switzerland and Spain. In China, the Xinjiang Daily reported on Monday that temperatures in Sanbao, a town in Xinjiang province, reached 52.2 degrees, as heat across the country threatened power supplies and damaged crops.

The heat followed a recent announcement by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that last month was the hottest June ever recorded, and an announcement by the World Meteorological Organization that the week of July 3-9 was the hottest on record.

The WMO said this week these records would be surpassed in the years ahead and the heatwave in Europe could continue into August, as an emerging El Niño weather pattern added to the effects of global warming.

“These events will continue to grow in intensity and the world needs to prepare for more intense heatwaves,” John Nairn, of the WMO, told reporters.

Against this dire backdrop, John Kerry, the US climate envoy, travelled to Beijing this week for three days of talks with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, to explore co-operation on climate change, including potentially phasing out methane emissions and supporting climate finance. The two countries – both in the grip of heatwaves – are the world’s two largest carbon emitters and are responsible for about 45 per cent of global emissions.

Speaking at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, Kerry said he hoped action on climate change by the US and China could lead to “a new definition of co-operation and of capacity to resolve the differences between us”.

“Climate, as you know, is a global issue, not a bilateral issue,” he said. “It’s a threat to all of humankind.”

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 22, 2023 as "Thai establishment blocks prime ministerial frontrunner".

For almost a decade, The Saturday Paper has published Australia’s leading writers and thinkers. We have pursued stories that are ignored elsewhere, covering them with sensitivity and depth. We have done this on refugee policy, on government integrity, on robo-debt, on aged care, on climate change, on the pandemic.

All our journalism is fiercely independent. It relies on the support of readers. By subscribing to The Saturday Paper, you are ensuring that we can continue to produce essential, issue-defining coverage, to dig out stories that take time, to doggedly hold to account politicians and the political class.

There are very few titles that have the freedom and the space to produce journalism like this. In a country with a concentration of media ownership unlike anything else in the world, it is vitally important. Your subscription helps make it possible.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

Use your Google account to create your subscription