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Floods affect over 1 million in Balkans, destruction ‘terrifying’

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Floods affect over 1 million in Balkans, destruction ‘terrifying’ | Thaiger

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

Floods affect over 1 million in Balkans, destruction ‘terrifying’
Reuters/ Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Bosnia said on Monday that more than a quarter of its 4 million people had been affected by the worst floods to hit the Balkans in living memory, comparing the “terrifying” destruction to that of the country’s 1992-95 war.

The extent of the devastation became apparent in Serbia too, as waters receded in some of the worst-hit areas to reveal homes toppled or submerged in mud, trees felled and villages strewn with the rotting corpses of livestock.

The regional death toll reached more than 40, after the heaviest rainfall since records began 120 years ago caused rivers to burst their banks and triggered hundreds of landslides.

“The consequences … are terrifying,” Bosnian Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija told a news conference. “The physical destruction is not less than the destruction caused by the war.”

Lagumdzija said more than 100,000 houses and other buildings in Bosnia were no longer fit to use and that over a million people had been cut off from clean water supplies.

“During the war, many people lost everything,” he said. “Today, again they have nothing.”

His remarks threw into sharp relief the extent of the challenge now facing the cash-strapped governments of both Bosnia and Serbia.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said the cost in Serbia would run to hundreds of millions of euros. President Tomislav Nikolic appealed for outside aid.

“We expect huge support, because not many countries have experienced such a catastrophe,” he said.

Even as the crisis eased in some areas, a new flood wave from the swollen River Sava threatened others, notably Serbia’s largest power plant, the Nikola Tesla complex, 30 km (18 miles) southwest of the capital Belgrade.

In Bosnia, Assistant Security Minister Samir Agic told Reuters that up to 35,000 people had been evacuated by helicopter, boat and truck. As many as 500,000 had left their homes of their own accord, he said, in the kind of human displacement not seen since more than a million were driven out by ethnic cleansing in the Bosnian war two decades ago.

POWER PLANT

At least 25,000 people have been evacuated in Serbia, but many more are believed to have fled the flooding.

Hundreds of volunteers in the Serbian capital filled sandbags and stacked them along the banks of the Sava. Police issued an appeal for more bags.

Soldiers and energy workers toiled through the night to build barriers of sandbags to keep the water back from the Nikola Tesla complex and from the coal-fired Kostolac power plant, east of Belgrade.

Djina Trisovic, a union spokeswoman at Serbia’s EPS power utility, said some workers at the Nikola Tesla plant had worked three days with barely a break because relief teams could not reach the plant.

“The plant should be safe now,” she told Reuters. “We’ve done all we could. Now it’s in the hands of God.”

The plant provides roughly half of Serbia’s electricity. Parts of it had already been shut down as a precaution, but it would have to be powered down completely if the waters breached the defences.

Flooding had already caused considerable damage, estimated by the government at over 100 million euros (83.16 million pounds), to the Kolubara coal mine that supplies the plant.

Authorities in Bosnia issued a fresh warning about the danger of landmines left over from the war and now dislodged by the flooding.

In the north Bosnian region of Maglaj, barely a single house was left untouched by the waters, which receded to leave a tide of mud and debris.

In the village of Donja Polja, where Muslim Bosniaks returned in 1995 to homes burned or shelled during the war, Hatidza Muhic swept the mud from the hallway of her house. Dark lines on the walls indicated the water had reached some 3 metres high.

“I thought the war was as bad as it can get, but it can get worse,” Muhic said. “I just pray to God that we can save our minds, because first we were hit by the war, and now this.”

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Business

Bitcoin sheds nearly 15% of its ‘value’ in one day

Tim Newton

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Bitcoin sheds nearly 15% of its ‘value’ in one day | Thaiger

After a meteoric, and probably unsustainable rise and rise over the past 12 months, Bitcoin has suffered a short and sharp mini-crash over the weekend, dropping nearly 15% of its value in less than an hour – a stark warning of the cryptocurrency’s unpredictable volatility.

Bitcoin dropped in ‘value’ from about US$59,000 to US$51,000 before rebounding. Ethereum and Dogecoin also suffered dramatic and sudden losses, before clawing back some of their losses.

This time last year Bitcoin was simmering around US$7,725 after bumping up and down on the spot since 2018. But last year, fuelled by fears of an over-heated US stock market, Covid volatility (whatever that is), government handouts and people-with-too-much-time-on-their-hands, Bitcoin went on a spectacular climb to peak at US$63,588 last Tuesday. But Newton’s first law (the scientist, not me) kicked into action, and with venom.

The price of a single Bitcoin hit a low of US$52,810.06 Saturday after tumbling more than US$7,000 in just one hour, before stabilising.

The drop on Saturday appears to have been triggered by a Twitter rumour that the US Treasury would crack down on money laundering schemes involving cryptocurrencies. Separately, Reuters reported a power blackout in China’s Xinjiang region, where a lot of Bitcoin ‘mining’ happens, was blamed for the steep dive.

That information came from data website CoinMarketCap.

The sudden rise of the cryptocurrencies over the past 12 months has drawn a lot of attention from governments and investors, and RobinHood-esque day trade brigade. Coinbass went public, and therefore ‘mainstream’, last Wednesday.

“All eyes are on Coinbase… as the cryptocurrency exchange prepares for its first day of trading as a public company on Nasdaq under the ticker symbol ‘COIN’.

Coinbase’s market debut is a special event for several reasons. First, it will be Nasdaq’s first major direct listing, an unusual route for companies to go public without the underwriting of an investment bank.” – USA Today

Then Dogecoin had a 500% rally – an ‘asset’ that was created as a joke 8 years ago – on April 16. 500%!!!

The fervent supports of cryptocurrencies, almost a cult, are having their moment and proving, for now, that they can have their day in the financial sun as well. With Coinbase’s successful debut on Wall Street last week, they’ve gone all suit and tie.

Last year’s sharp, and very tempting, rise in Bitcoin values has the wider financial market talking about the bubble in the cryptocurrency market – Bitcoin has more than doubled in value since the start of this year. The market will decide whether that bubble will continue to grow or do what bubbles eventually do.

At the end of 2017 the Bitcoin digital token rose in value to nearly US$20,000 before crashing to almost US$3,000 the following year.

For now, it’s all eyes on the cryptos to see which way they move. The only thing that can be guaranteed is that their valuations will remain volatile and that there will be winners and losers.

Bitcoin sheds nearly 15% of its 'value' in one day | News by Thaiger

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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 international travel freedom comparison is mostly theoretical at the moment since Covid-19 continues to limit most travel worldwide. 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

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World

The Queen sits as a lonely figure as she bids farewell to her husband Prince Philip

Tim Newton

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The Queen sits as a lonely figure as she bids farewell to her husband Prince Philip | Thaiger
PHOTO: VOA news

Prince Philip was laid to rest Saturday afternoon, UK time, in a simple but soulful funeral ceremony honouring his lifetime of service to the UK, the Commonwealth and his wife of 73 years, Queen Elizabeth II.

Clad in black, her head bowed in prayer, the elderly monarch set an example for the UK community during the Covid pandemic, socially distancing herself from the rest of her family.

Prince Philip died just 2 months short of his 100th birthday – some reflected that he was just 2 months away from receiving a telegram from his wife.

The service at Windsor Castle was light on pageantry but steeped in military and royal traditions. The whole pre-funeral procession and service was held away from the public eye, entirely within the grounds of Windsor Castle, but a full live stream of the proceedings was shown on UK TV and internet services.

Instead of the expected nearly 1,000 mourners, there was a mere 30 allowed inside the grounds of the castle to take part in the procession and service, although there was a larger entourage of socially-distanced musicians, camera-people, guards and organisers on site.

Attending were Prince Charles his wife Camilla, Prince Andrew, Prince William and his wife Kate, and Prince Harry, who had returned from the US without his pregnant wife Meghan. The Queen and Prince Philip’s other children, and grandchildren, were also in attendance.

The most poignant image from the entire ceremony was the lone figure of Queen Elizabeth, entirely in black with a black face mask and hat, a very human and frail figure who spent the entire service buried in deep contemplation, rarely raising her head to watch the proceedings. Whilst the service was all about remembering the service and duty of her consort, Prince Philip, there were few who wouldn’t have been thinking of the 94 year old woman sitting all alone, grieving the loss of her husband.

Britain officially observed 1 minute of silence in honour of Prince Philip just before the funeral started.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s coffin arrived at the chapel in a modified Land Rover conceived by the prince. Known for his sense of humour and off-the-cuff one-liners (that often got him into hot water), the arrival of his own coffin in an army-green pick-up truck was his final poke at the outrageous pageantry he often shied away from.

His coffin was draped in his personal standard with his Royal Navy cap, sword and a wreath of flowers sitting atop.

Prince Philip was placed in the vault along with the remains of 24 other royals, including 3 kings of England. But following the Queen’s death, the pair are expected to be buried in the Royal Burial Ground on the Frogmore Estate close to Windsor Castle.

Along with Philip’s children and grandchildren, the 30 funeral guests included other senior royals and several of his German relatives. Philip was born a prince of Greece and Denmark and, like the queen, is related to mash-up of European royal families.

The two sons of Price Charles and Princess Diana, William and Harry, were seen walking together after the service and chatting as mourners were leaving the chapel.

The Queen sits as a lonely figure as she bids farewell to her husband Prince Philip | News by Thaiger

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