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Assad declared landslide victor in wartime Syrian election

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Assad declared landslide victor in wartime Syrian election | Thaiger

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Assad declared landslide victor in wartime Syrian election
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: President Bashar al-Assad has secured a landslide victory in a wartime election that was condemned as a sham by his opponents but demonstrated his tenacious hold on power after three years of brutal civil war.

Parliamentary speaker Mohammad al-Laham said Assad secured 88.7 percent of votes cast in the election, which was held mainly in the central and western parts of the country, where his forces hold sway.

“I declare the victory of Dr Bashar Hafez al-Assad as president of the Syrian Arab Republic with an absolute majority of the votes cast in the election,” Laham said in a televised address from his office in the Syrian parliament.

Even before he spoke, celebratory gunfire and fireworks erupted in Damascus in anticipation of the news. Three people were killed in the capital and 10 were wounded by the gunfire, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.

Nearly an hour after the announcement, heavy shooting could still be heard, despite an appeal by the victorious Assad that “joy and enthusiasm” could not justify the danger caused by the celebratory fire.

State television showed crowds cheering and dancing in Damascus, Qamishli in the Kurdish northeast of the country, the Druze city of Suweida in the south and the contested city of Aleppo in the north.

Syria’s constitutional court earlier said that turnout in Tuesday’s election and a previous round of voting for Syrian expatriates and refugees stood at 73 percent.

Assad’s foes have ridiculed the election, saying the two relatively unknown and state-approved challengers offered no real alternative to Assad. Former minister Hassan al-Nouri got 4.3 percent of the vote while parliamentarian Maher Hajjar secured 3.2 percent, fewer than the number of spoilt ballots.

They also said that no credible poll could be held in the midst of a conflict that has killed 160,000 people, driven millions from their homes and put swaths of northern and eastern Syria beyond Assad’s control.

“These elections are illegitimate and undermine the political efforts to find a solution to this horrific conflict,” the European Union said in a statement.

‘A GREAT BIG ZERO’

The United States, which has repeatedly said Assad lost his legitimacy when he responded with force to an outbreak of protests more than three years ago, said the vote changed nothing.

“With respect to the elections that took place, the so-called elections, the elections are non-elections, the elections are a great big zero,” Secretary of State John Kerry said during a brief visit to neighbouring Lebanon.

“They are meaningless, and they are meaningless because you can’t have an election where millions of your people don’t even have the ability to vote, where they don’t have the ability to contest the election, and they have no choice.”

A coalition of Islamist rebel fighters described the vote as “Elections of Blood” and said it had no legitimacy.

Syrian officials had described the predicted victory as vindication of Assad’s three-year campaign against the rebels and a landmark for democracy – the first time in half a century that Syria has held a contested presidential election.

For many Syrians voting on Tuesday, politics took second place to the yearning for stability and security after three devastating years of conflict which grew out of the mass protests in 2011 against Assad’s rule.

For the country’s minority Alawite, Christian and Druze communities, the Alawite president offers a bulwark against increasingly radical Sunni Muslim insurgents and the promise – however remote – of a return to stability.

The official figures also suggest that many of the majority Sunni Muslims turned out to vote for Assad, whether out of weariness with the conflict or fear of retribution if they did not vote.

Previous presidential votes had been referendums to approve the appointment of Bashar and his father, Hafez al-Assad, who ruled for 30 years until his death in 2000. Hafez never won less than 99 percent, while his son scored 97 percent in 2007.

Assad’s victory came a week after former Egyptian army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi secured 96.9 percent of votes in Egypt’s presidential election. Turnout in Egypt was 47 percent, the country’s election commission said.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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World

India sees record Covid-19 infections, oxygen shortages

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India sees record Covid-19 infections, oxygen shortages | Thaiger
PHOTO: India's Covid-19 infections spread while oxygen supplies dwindle.

India is experiencing record infections and deaths due to Covid-19 and is now running dangerously low on oxygen supplies. The countries second wave of the virus includes a dangerous virus variant that is spreading quickly and has infected 3.5 million people just this month. In the last 24 hours, 295,000 new infections occurred with just over 2,000 deaths. Prime minister Narendra Modi said that India was in for a big fight and that the second wave of Covid-19 came like a storm.

India had done relatively well during the first wave of the coronavirus for a country dense with 1.3 billion inhabitants. In the last few weeks though people have let their guard down with millions attending religious festivals cricket matches huge weddings, and political rallies around the country. This coinciding with delays and even stopping of production for Covid-19 vaccines and medication along with a lack of oxygen being generated in India is leading to new levels of crisis.

With oxygen supplies dwindling throughout India, relatives of Covid-19 patients are buying black-market oxygen supplies for hyper-inflated prices. Some hospitals are said to be down to their last few hours of oxygen supplies. The health minister of New Delhi is pleading with the government to focus on the oxygen supply chain in India before it devolves into a serious crisis.

Mumbai is the centre of this most recent surge and oxygen shortages there are no better. One doctor said in the event of an oxygen shortage they would usually just relocate patients to another hospital, but now no hospital has the needed surplus. The prime minister said that the government, federal and local, along with private enterprise are working to increase oxygen supplies in India.

New Delhi is in the middle of a week-long lockdown and several other Indian States are facing shut down this weekend. Several countries are cancelling flights or moving India to advisory lists, urging their citizens not to travel there. The United Kingdom and the United States have both flagged India as unsafe to travel, while New Zealand and Hong Kong have completely banned flights.

Vaccination has been hit or miss in India, with early criticism for exporting jobs produced there while so few had been administered locally. Now India has stopped exporting AstraZeneca vaccines, and more than 130 million jabs have been given though supplies have still been limited. Data is expected in the next few weeks about the effect of the Indian Covid-19 variant. As of now, India is second to only the US in total cases with 15.6 million infections and over 180,000 deaths.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Thailand launches Covid-19 vaccine passport for international travel

Maya Taylor

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Thailand launches Covid-19 vaccine passport for international travel | Thaiger
PHOTO: Marco Verch / Flickr

The Thai government has confirmed it is adopting a vaccine passport scheme, to provide vaccinated residents with proof of Covid-19 inoculation. The vaccine passport will be an official document which can be used by vaccinated people travelling abroad. Details of the scheme have now been published in the Royal Gazette, making it official.

The Bangkok Post reports that the Royal Gazette has also published the format of the vaccine passport, which has been approved by Opas Karnkawinpong from the Department of Disease Control. The cover contains text in English and Thai, which bears the department’s name and that of the Public Health Ministry. It carries the national emblem of Thailand, the garuda, and the wording, “Covid-19 Certificate of Vaccination”.

The vaccine passport also contains the owner’s name, as well as his or her national identification or passport number, and confirmation that the holder is vaccinated against Covid-19. It’s understood that only vaccines approved by Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration or by the World Health Organisation, will be recognised in the vaccine passport scheme.

In order to be valid, the vaccine passport must be signed by an approved disease control official. The Royal Gazette has published an order from the Department of Disease Control authorising 6 such officials to sign the document.

Each vaccine passport is for individual use only. Parents of children under the age of 7 will be required to sign their document for them, while people who cannot write will be required to provide a fingerprint.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Tourism

World’s most travel-friendly passport list – 2021

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World’s most travel-friendly passport list – 2021 | Thaiger
FILE PHOTO: Japan tops the list of most travel-friendly passports.

The Henley Passport Index, which rates which passports are the most travel-friendly, has just released the list for 2021, with Japan once again at the top of the list.

But the Index noted that this year’s international travel freedom comparison is mostly theoretical as the current Covid-19 situation continues to limit most international travel.

With a Japanese passport, travellers can enter 193 countries without a visa or with a visa-on-arrival. On the other end of the list, an Afghanistan passport can only get into 26 countries. The gap of 167 countries is the widest gap since the Henley Passport Index began tracking this data 15 years ago in 2006.

Singapore kept its second-place this year standing with just one less destination than Japan, followed by Germany and South Korea tied for 3rd place with 191 destinations. The rest of the top 10 are mainly European countries, with the exception of New Zealand and the US as part of the 5-way tie for 7th place with 187 destinations, and Australia and Canada tied for 9th place with 185 destinations.

The US and UK passports took a tumble, once tied for the most travel-friendly passport back in 2014, now losing ground slipping to 7th place. On the other hand, United Arab Emirates strengthened diplomatic ties worldwide and jumped 50 spots this year from 65th all the way to 15th. Over the decade, the climb is even more dramatic, with the Emirates exploding from 67 destinations 10 years ago up 107 destinations to 174 this year. China did well also, climbing 22 places since 2011, up to number 68 on the list.

Thailand’s passport is tied with Saudi Arabia at 66th with 79 destinations available without an advance visa.

The full list of most travel-friendly passports…
1. Japan (193 destinations)
2. Singapore (192)
3. Germany, South Korea (191)
4. Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain (190)
5. Austria, Denmark (189)
6. France, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden (188)
7. Belgium, New Zealand, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States (187)
8. Czech Republic, Greece, Malta, Norway (186)
9. Australia, Canada (185)
10. Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia (183)

Henley and Partners predict that the spread in passport access will mirror Covid-19 affected travel. Rich and mobile regions like the US, UK, EU and UAE are getting access to vaccination, hastening their ability to travel, while poorer and developing economies are experiencing a much slower vaccine roll-out.

Experts from Syracuse University, the University of Pittsburgh, and the Migration Policy Centre predict this trend will continue with potentially devastating long-term effects.

Countries that can afford and facilitate vaccination for their citizens quickly will be able to welcome travellers in for tourism and business and be able to travel more themselves. Conversely, countries that can’t afford the storage and distribution of vaccines will be less able to travel or welcome tourism income, widening a global wealth gap.

Remote working and the digital nomad lifestyle has been booming in recent years and with Covid-19 forcing businesses to adapt to telecommuting, the post-pandemic world will see more remote working, and countries falling behind with vaccinations will suffer the long-term loss in tourism dollars too.

SOURCE: CNN

World's most travel-friendly passport list - 2021 | News by Thaiger

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