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Election massacres of Muslims darken India immigration debate

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Election massacres of Muslims darken India immigration debate | Thaiger

PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

– World news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Election massacres of Muslims darken India immigration debate
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: From his hiding place in a cowshed, Sefaqul Islam watched as masked gunmen moved through his village, shot women and children dead with automatic rifles and tossed wounded survivors into the blazing remains of their homes.

The cattle herder’s sister and seven-year-old nephew were among 41 Muslims killed by suspected tribal militants last week in India’s remote state of Assam, the latest atrocity against people accused of being immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.

“We will never go back to the village,” said Islam, as he and dozens of Narayanguri’s traumatized inhabitants erected bamboo-framed tents on the opposite bank of the Beki river.

Police and local residents said three separate attacks were carried out by militants from the ethnic Bodo community as punishment for Muslims who failed to support their local candidate in the election, which is still going on across India.

The worst outbreak of communal violence in the northeastern region since 2012 has compounded fears among Muslims living along the India-Bangladesh border who feel they are being singled out by the man widely expected to be India’s next prime minister – Narendra Modi.

The Hindu nationalist candidate, campaigning mainly on a ticket of economic growth, has ratcheted up rhetoric against illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, saying they should have their “bags packed” ready to be sent home should he win.

“The infiltrators have to go, go and go,” Modi said on Wednesday in West Bengal, which also borders Bangladesh. “Don’t you think they have made your life miserable?”

A few miles from Narayanguri, in an area prone to religious violence, Modi made a similar speech a few days before the massacres, warning that Bangladeshis were taking over the state.

While there is no evidence Modi’s words had any bearing on the latest bloodshed in a long-running conflict, his rivals say the speeches, which continued after the attacks, risk alienating many in India’s Muslim minority of 150 million people.

He has distinguished between economic immigrants from Bangladesh and Hindu refugees, whom he calls “family” escaping religious persecution in the Muslim-majority nation.

The prospect of an Indian prime minister forcing Muslims of Bangladeshi origin to return home has also raised alarm bells in Dhaka, where the government said it would resist any such move.

“If they do it, the relationship between the two countries will be jeopardized, it will be damaged,” said Bangladesh Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed.

“India, being a … big country, a democratic country, a secular country, cannot take such a position.”

MODI’S PARTY DEFENDS STANCE

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which opinion polls suggest will lead the next government after a staggered, five-week election that ends on Monday, denies stirring tensions in Assam and has firmly condemned the killings.

Party leaders says it has every right to address what it says is an issue of national security, because immigration is part of a bid by Bangladesh to expand its borders informally.

“This is a fight between ethnic people and suspected foreigners who have captured our land and our jobs,” said Ranjit Kumar Das, a BJP legislator in Assam’s state assembly who lives in Barpeta Road, the closest town to the massacre.

“(The violence) is the natural outcome,” he said. “If there is no permanent solution it will happen again and again.”

The BJP also accuses the Congress party, which rules in Assam but looks set to be toppled from power on a national level, of failing to prevent the violence despite warning signs that trouble was brewing after voting took place there.

For its part, Congress says Modi is playing a divisive and dangerous political game in Assam, and the row has thrust a local issue on to the national stage during an election.

Reaction to Modi’s speeches on social media shows people are listening. Posts under the #deportbangladeshis tag were at the top of Twitter’s trend list in India on Monday.

“This should shivers down the spines of illegal muslim immigrant pests, mostly thieves and dacoits (bandits)!” read one comment attached to an article about the killings.

For most of his tireless, 10-month election campaign, Modi, 63, has focussed on his credentials as an efficient manager capable of ending the worst economic slowdown in decades.

But he has failed to shake off doubts that he and his party are prejudiced against Muslims and will favour the Hindu majority at their expense.

Those date back to the party’s rise in the 1990s following a mob’s destruction of a mosque.

Modi has been accused of not doing enough to stop communal riots in 2002 in Gujarat, where he is chief minister, in which more than 1,000 people died, most of them Muslims.

He has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, and a Supreme Court inquiry found no case to answer.

“This violence has a long history,” said BJP spokesman MJ Akbar, referring to the Assam attacks. “This knee-jerk reaction of blaming Narendra Modi for everything is absurd.”

FENCE AND CAMERAS?

The situation on the ground is far more complex than Bodo against Muslim immigrants, BJP against Congress.

During this election, the BJP has tried to make inroads in the east of India where its support has traditionally been weak.

As part of the strategy, it has launched verbal attacks on leaders of Assam and West Bengal, accusing them of caring more for illegal immigrants than jobless youth from their own states.

Many local people in Assam, where the Muslim population has risen over the past century and now makes up some 30 percent of the population, agree with Modi. Nationwide Muslims account for around 13 percent of the population.

“Narendra Modi has boldly said what other politicians have not dared to utter so far,” said Golap Saikia, a businessman in Assam’s largest city, Guwahati. “Let us see how far he can achieve his commitment.”

But even if Modi wants to deport illegal immigrants, identifying them would be a major problem.

Estimates suggest several million Bangladeshis and their descendents born in India have settled in the country over the decades, and a chief complaint of the BJP is that Congress gives immigrants voting papers.

Any push for mass deportation risks creating social unrest and leaving many of Assam’s Muslims in limbo, since Bangladesh is unlikely to take them back – a situation with parallels to the plight of stateless Muslim Rohingyas in Myanmar.

The relatively large Muslim populations in eastern India is partly explained by events in 1971, when East Pakistan became independent Bangladesh after a war that triggered a wave of migration into Assam and other states.

Better job prospects in India have continued to lure people over the border.

The BJP may look to strengthen the 3,909 km (2,429 mile) frontier by completing a fence running along it and adding security cameras, said Kanchan Gupta, a member of the BJP’s national executive who worked on the party’s election manifesto.

— 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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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

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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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