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Assad seeks re-election as Syrian civil war rages

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Assad seeks re-election as Syrian civil war rages
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad declared on Monday he would seek re-election in June, defying calls from his opponents to step aside and allow a political solution to the country’s devastating civil war.

Assad formally submitted his nomination to Syria’s constitutional court to stand in an election which his Western and Arab foes have dismissed as a parody of democracy.

He is the seventh person to put himself forward for Syria’s first multi-candidate presidential vote in decades, but none of his rivals are expected to mount a serious challenge to 44 years of Assad family rule.

The announcement was made in parliament by speaker Mohammad al-Laham, who read out Assad’s submission. “I … Dr Bashar Hafez al Assad … wish to nominate myself for the post of president of the republic, hoping that parliament will endorse it,” it said.

State media said crowds gathered to celebrate the coming election and recent military gains by Assad’s forces who, supported by foreign allies, have turned the tide of a war which 18 months ago challenged his control over Damascus.

“As soon as we heard that the president announced his candidacy we came down to the streets to celebrate because we cannot see any future Syria without his excellency President Bashar al-Assad,” said Khadija Hashma, one of about 100 people demonstrating in the central Damascus district of Mezzeh.

In a statement minutes after his candidacy was announced, Assad appealed for restraint and said any “demonstration of joy” should be responsible, urging people not to fire celebratory shots in the air.

ELECTION “ILLEGITIMATE”

Syria’s opposition leaders in exile, barred from standing by a constitutional clause requiring candidates to have lived in Syria continuously for 10 years, dismissed the vote as a charade.

The constitution also says candidates must have the backing of 35 members of the pro-Assad parliament, effectively ruling out dissenting voices from the campaign.

The National Coalition, Syria’s main opposition umbrella group in exile, said Assad’s determination to win another term in office showed he was not interested in a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

“From the start this regime is illegitimate, and so is this action,” said Hadi al Bahra, a member of the coalition’s political committee. “This has no value, but says that the regime is not serious about a political solution.”

Authorities have not said how they will hold the vote in a country where six million people have been displaced and large swathes of territory remain outside government control.

Another 2.5 million refugees have fled Syria, many smuggling themselves across the frontier to avoid Assad’s security forces. Election commission head Hisham al-Shaar was quoted by Syria’s Al-Watan newspaper on Monday as saying Syrians who had left the country illegally would not be eligible to vote.

More than 150,000 people have been killed in Syria’s conflict, which started when protests against Assad’s rule erupted in March 2011, inspired by other Arab uprisings.

Demonstrations were put down by force and the uprising became an armed insurgency which now pits mainly Sunni Muslim rebels and foreign jihadis against forces loyal to Assad, who is from Syria’s Alawite minority – an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.

The president has been backed by Iran and Russia and his soldiers have been reinforced by Shi’ite fighters from Iraq and Lebanon’s militant group Hezbollah, while regional Sunni Muslim powers have backed the rebels.

TURNING POINT?

Assad’s forces have consolidated their grip around Damascus and central Syria, and hold the Alawite heartland provinces on the Mediterranean coast. Rebels control much of the north and east, but have been plagued by infighting.

Two weeks ago Assad said the Syrian conflict had reached a turning point and the deputy leader of Hezbollah said it was time Assad’s Western foes accepted he was there to stay, adding that Assad would win re-election decisively.

Peace talks in Geneva brokered by international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, who is widely expected to announce his resignation soon, broke down in February.

Brahimi has warned that holding the presidential election on June 3 would present an even greater challenge to reviving negotiations which were supposed to include discussion of a transitional governing body in Syria including both opposition and government representatives.

Bahra said Assad’s campaign for a third term in office contravened an accord, known as Geneva 1, agreed by international powers in Switzerland two years ago which was supposed to form the basis for the peace talks.

“He is in defiance of all U.N. Security Council resolutions and outside the Geneva 1 process,” Bahra said.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Covid-19 vaccine CEOs say 3rd dose may be needed along with annual jabs

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Covid-19 vaccine CEOs say 3rd dose may be needed along with annual jabs | Thaiger
Stock photo of Pfizer vaccine via Flickr

The CEO for the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines says it is likely that people will need a 3rd dose of the vaccine and to receive it annually. Albert Bourla, told CNBC, that the booster, or 3rd dose, will be needed less than a year after being fully vaccinated.

“A likely scenario is that there will be likely a need for a 3rd dose, somewhere between 6 and 12 months and then from there, there will be an annual revaccination, but all of that needs to be confirmed. And again, the variants will play a key role. It is extremely important to suppress the pool of people that can be susceptible to the virus.”

Bourla’s comment echoes that of Johnson & Johnson’s CEO when he stated in February, that people may need to get vaccinated against Covid-19 annually, just like seasonal flu shots. Both statements reflect the fact that since the vaccine is new, and testing periods are shorter than most vaccines in the past, researchers are still unclear about how long the vaccine will protect against the virus.

Pfizer says that its Covid-19 vaccine was more than 91% effective at protecting against the coronavirus and more than 95% effective against severe diseases up to 6 months after the 2nd dose. Moderna’s vaccine, which uses technology similar to Pfizer’s, was also shown to be highly effective at 6 months.

Just yesterday, the Biden administration’s Covid response chief science officer, David Kessler, noted that new Covid variants could “challenge” the effectiveness of the shots.

“We don’t know everything at this moment. We are studying the durability of the antibody response. It seems strong but there is some waning of that and no doubt the variants challenge … they make these vaccines work harder. So I think for planning purposes, planning purposes only, I think we should expect that we may have to boost.”

Late last month, the National Institute of Health started testing a new Covid vaccine from Moderna in addition to the one it already has, designed to protect against a problematic variant first found in South Africa. The variant is similar to that of the UK one that has recently made landfall in Thailand.

Recent findings, by The Lancet, however, have stated that the UK variant, known as B117, has a higher reproductive rate than other strains, and it’s more transmissible. However, it refuted earlier reports that the strain is more severe. Meanwhile, Thailand’s health minister is confirming his commitment to making AstraZeneca the nation’s chosen vaccine.

SOURCE: CNBC

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Economy

China grows 18.3%, the only major economy to grow in 2020

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China grows 18.3%, the only major economy to grow in 2020 | Thaiger
PHOTO: China - the second largest economy, and only major economy to grow last year.

China’s economy set a record for growth in Q1, 2021, marking an 18.3% jump in year-on-year figures, the biggest quarterly growth in almost 30 years. China only started publishing growth statistics in 1992, and this drastic increase is the fastest growth recorded since then.

The figures, however impressive, are mainly due to what is called a “low base effect” where the change from a low starting point translates into big percentage statistics. Because of the devastating economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Q1 2020 figures were dismal, allowing the big gain over the last year.

Quarter to quarter, the last 3 months saw only a 0.6% growth, but in the last quarter of 2020 China recorded an economic boom of 6.5% according to the Chinese government. Still, the figures are admirable, as China was the only major economy in the world to achieve growth in 2020. Most of the planet struggled to contain global Covid-19 outbreaks, crippling economies across the globe. But China, now the second-largest economy in the world, managed a 2.3% overall expansion. Even Chinese officials called the impressive statistics “better than we had expected.”

China has been growing in terms of imports and exports as well, with exports expanding nearly 31% and imports up 38% by price over last years.

SOURCE: CNN

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Denmark becomes first country in Europe to ditch AstraZeneca vaccine

Maya Taylor

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Denmark becomes first country in Europe to ditch AstraZeneca vaccine | Thaiger
PHOTO: Flickr

Denmark has announced that it is abandoning the AstraZeneca vaccine, the first European country to do so, amid concerns about very rare but serious blood clots. The rollout of the vaccine has run into problems in several countries, with its use either temporarily suspended or restricted to older age groups.

When concerns first arose over the vaccine’s rare side-effects, Denmark was the first country in Europe to suspend its use. In Thailand, use of the vaccine was suspended last month, before officials judged it safe to proceed, with Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul going on to confirm it would become the Kingdom’s primary Covid-19 vaccine.

Both the European drugs regulator and the World Health Organisation are standing by the jab, saying the benefits outweigh the risks. However, health officials in Denmark have now decided to ditch it for good.

“Denmark’s vaccination campaign will go ahead without the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

Denmark has reported 2 cases of thrombosis (blood clotting) linked to administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine, one of which proved fatal. The blood clot incidents arose after 140,000 people had received the jab. The Bangkok Post reports that 8% of Denmark’s 5.8 million inhabitants have been fully vaccinated and 17% have received their first dose.

The country plans to continue its rollout using the Modern and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. Officials say they are confident that the availability of other jabs, coupled with the fact that Covid-19 is relatively under control in Denmark, means the country’s mass inoculation can continue without issue.

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca has released a statement acknowledging the decision taken by Danish health authorities.

“We recognise and respect the decision taken by the Danish Health Authority. Implementation and rollout of the vaccine programme is a matter for each country to decide, based on local conditions. We will continue to collaborate with the regulators and local authorities to provide all available data to inform their decisions.”

SOURCE: Euro News | Bangkok Post

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