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France in shock after Islamist attacks

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France in shock after Islamist attacks | The Thaiger

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

France in shock after Islamist attacks
Phuket Gazette / Reuters

PHUKET: French prosecutors said on Saturday that three coordinated teams of gunmen and suicide bombers carried out a wave of attacks across Paris that killed 129 people in what President Francois Hollande called an “act of war” by Islamic State.

Hollande declared a state of emergency, ordering police and troops into the streets, and set three days of official mourning as a stunned nation sought to comprehend the simultaneous assault on restaurants, a concert hall and the national soccer stadium on a busy Friday evening.

As a cross-border investigation gathered pace, prosecutors said the slaughter – claimed by Islamic State as revenge for French military action in Syria and Iraq – appeared to involve a multinational team with links to the Middle East, Belgium and possibly Germany as well as home-grown French roots.

Ominously, Greek officials said one and perhaps two of the assailants had passed through Greece from Turkey alongside Syrian refugees fleeing violence in their homeland.

In coordination with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies, U.S. Justice Department attorneys are working with French authorities to obtain further information that may be relevant to the Paris attacks, a Justice Department official said on Saturday.

The worst carnage was unleashed as three gunmen systematically killed at least 89 people at a rock concert by an American band at the Bataclan theatre before detonating explosive belts as anti-terrorist commandos launched an assault, officials said.

Some 40 more people were killed in five other attacks in the Paris region, including a double suicide bombing outside the Stade de France stadium, where Hollande and the German foreign minister were watching a soccer international. By Saturday night, 99 people were still in critical condition.

The bloodshed came as France, a founder member of the U.S.-led coalition waging air strikes against Islamic State, was already on high alert for terrorist attacks, raising questions about how such a complex conspiracy could go undetected.

It was the worst such attack in Europe since the Madrid train bombings of 2004, in which Islamists killed 191 people.

ARRESTS IN BELGIUM

Hollande said the attacks had been organised from abroad by Islamic State, with internal help.

Three people were arrested in Belgium as part of an anti-terrorism probe centred on a Belgian hired car found near the site of one of the Paris attacks, Belgian prosecutors said. It was one of two vehicles used in a string of attacks in central Paris within the space of less than an hour.

Sources close to the inquiry said one of the dead gunmen was French with ties to Islamist militants and had been under surveillance by the security services. French media said the man’s brother and father had been were arrested on Saturday

A man arrested in Germany’s southern state of Bavaria this month after guns and explosives were found in his car may also be linked to the Paris attacks, Bavaria’s state premier said.

The holder of a Syrian passport found near the body of one of the suicide bombers outside the soccer stadium passed though the Greek island of Leros in October, a Greek minister said.

A Greek police source said the man had arrived in Leros with 69 refugees, where he was registered and had his fingerprints taken. Police declined to give his name. A Greek government source later said that a second suspected Paris attacker was also very likely to have passed through Greece.

If confirmed, the infiltration of militants into the flow of refugees to carry out attacks in Europe could have far-reaching political consequences.

The attacks fuelled a debate raging in Europe about how to handle the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and other migrants propelled by civil war in Syria, Iraq and Libya.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the European Commission have been pressing EU partners to ease Berlin’s burden by taking in quotas of refugees.

However, in a sign of potential divisions ahead, Poland said that the attacks meant it could not now take its share of migrants under the European Union relocation plan.

ATTACKS LINKED TO SYRIA

The carnage on the streets of the French capital followed recent attacks claimed by Islamic State: the apparent downing of a Russian passenger plane in Egypt, where 224 people died, and bombings in Lebanon in which 43 died. Turkey has also pointed the finger at Islamic State over a bomb attack on a rally in Ankara last month in which more than 100 people were killed. All the attacks were linked to the war in Syria.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls said France had no intention of halting its air strikes. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan urged world leaders gathered for a summit in Turkey starting on Sunday to prioritise the fight against terrorism, saying the Paris attacks showed the time for words was now over.

Hollande pulled out of the G20 summit after declaring the first nationwide state of emergency since 1961. France will be represented by its foreign and finance ministers.

“Faced with war, the country must take appropriate action,” the president said in a solemn address after meeting security chiefs.

“France will be merciless towards these barbarians from Daesh,” Hollande said, using an Arab acronym for Islamic State.

Flags flew at half-mast and cinemas, theatres and other places of entertainment were closed, although schools and universities will reopen as normal on Monday.

With the capital on edge, armed police rushed to a luxury hotel near the Eiffel Tower on Saturday evening, evacuated the building, sealed off a wide perimeter and closed nearby metro stations, only to say it had been a false alarm.

Speaking after peace talks on Syria in Vienna, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said: “We are witnessing a kind of medieval and modern fascism at the same time”.

In its claim of responsibility, Islamic State said the attacks were a response to France’s military campaign.

It also distributed an undated video in which a bearded militant warned in Arabic: “As long as you keep bombing, you will not live in peace. You will even fear travelling to the market.”

SEARCHING FOR THE MISSING

Updating the casualty toll, the Paris prosecutor said 129 people had been killed and 352 wounded, of whom 99 remained critical. Six attackers blew themselves up and one was shot by police. There may have been an eighth attacker, but this was not confirmed.

The dead included one U.S. citizen, one Swede, one Briton, two Belgians, two Romanians and two Mexicans, their governments said.

Nohemi Gonzalez, 23, a junior at California State University, Long Beach, who was studying design in France was among those killed in the attacks, school officials said on Saturday.

Nick Alexander, a member of the entourage of California-based rock band Eagles of Death Metal, was identified in a statement from his family as one of at least 89 people who died when gunmen stormed the Bataclan music hall in the midst of Friday night’s show.

Relatives and friends scoured Paris hospitals in search of people missing since Friday evening and believed to have gone to the Bataclan concert hall. Some anguished next of kin said their relatives were neither on the confirmed death toll nor among the wounded registered in hospitals.

Sylvestre, a young man who was at the Stade de France when bombs went off there, said he had been saved by his cellphone, which he was holding to his ear when a metal bolt hit it.

Hollande temporarily reimposed border controls as part of the state of emergency to stop perpetrators escaping or new attackers entering the country.

Local sports events in Paris were suspended, stores closed, the rock band U2 cancelled a concert, and schools, universities and municipal buildings stayed shut.

Emergency services were mobilised, police leave was cancelled, 1,500 army reinforcements were drafted into the Paris region and hospitals recalled staff to cope with casualties.

However, France said a global climate change summit in Paris at the end of the month would go ahead, amid heightened security.

France has been on high alert since Islamist gunmen attacked the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in January, killing 18 people.

Those attacks briefly united France in defence of freedom of speech, with a mass demonstration of more than a million people. But that unity has since broken down, with far-right populist Marine Le Pen gaining on both mainstream parties by blaming France’s security problems on immigration and Islam.

World leaders responded to the attacks in Paris with defiant pledges of solidarity. From Barack Obama to Vladimir Putin and across Europe and the Middle East, leaders offered their condolences.

France ordered increased security at its missions abroad. Britain, Germany, Italy, Russia, Belgium, Hungary and the Netherlands all tightened security measures.

British police said the evacuation of London’s Gatwick Airport on Saturday was connected to the discovery of a possible firearm in a bin, and that a 41-year-old man from France had been arrested.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Entertainment

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival

The Thaiger

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The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | The Thaiger

On the streets, in parks and garages, seven Cuban youngsters spent seven months practising K-pop moves to secure a spot on their dream stage: an appearance in South Korea to imitate their idols. 13 final teams from 80 countries are competing in the 2019 event.

At the grandly titled and government-funded Changwon K-pop World Festival contestants from around the globe perform imitation dances or sing cover versions of the genre’s biggest hits, with thousands of fans cheering them on.

In terms of global heft, South Korea is overshadowed by its much larger neighbours China and Japan, but the event is a way for Seoul to derive soft power from one of the country’s biggest cultural exports. In terms of pop-power, South Korea’s K-Pop is now a recognised world-wide music phenomenon with bands like BTS and Blackpink figuring amongst the other big-hitters on the Billboard charts and outselling their western counterparts with millions of albums and downloads.

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

Finalists for this year

Cuba’s Communist government is one of North Korea’s few remaining allies: when President Miguel Diaz-Canel, successor to the Castro brothers Fidel and Raul, visited Pyongyang last November he was only the third foreign head of state to do so since leader Kim Jong Un inherited power in 2011.

But rather than geopolitics, Havana performer Karel Rodriguez Diaz – whose mannerisms and sleek hairstyle could easily be mistaken for those of a K-pop star – is more motivated by high-tempo beats and superslick dance moves.

“We never had a place with a mirror or a choreographer who could teach us the steps” but they kept on practising, he said.

His team-mate Elio Gonzalez added: “We are so excited to represent not just Cuba but also the whole of Latin America.”

Some 6,400 teams from more than 80 countries entered the competition, according to organisers, with 13 groups from places as diverse as Kuwait and Madagascar winning through to the final in Changwon, where they appeared on stage waving their national flags.

“This is like watching the Olympics, a K-pop Olympics,” said the event’s host Lia, a member of K-pop group ITZY.

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

The Korean Wave

K-pop – along with K-drama soap operas – has been one of South Korea’s most successful cultural exports to date. A key part of the “Korean Wave” which has swept Asia and beyond in the last 20 years, the K-pop industry is now estimated to be worth $5 billion, with boyband BTS its latest high-profile exponent, becoming the world’s most successful band in the past 12 months, selling out stadium concerts within minutes, around the world.

The South Korean government has financed a variety of K-pop themed events in what CedarBough Saeji, a visiting professor at Indiana University Bloomington in the US, said was a form of long-term “soft power diplomacy”.

“When you are covering you get to ‘become’ those idols for the three and a half minutes of the song,” she said, adding that performers will go so far as matching their clothing, accessories and hairstyle to their heroes and heroines.

“The cover dancers of today will be diplomats, news reporters, and business leaders in forty years,” she went on.

“And hopefully they’ll still have a soft spot in their heart for Korea. Korea can’t win the world through hard power – armies, economic bullying – but with soft power even a small country like Korea has a chance.”

The music also provides an artistic alternative for overseas fans, especially those in developing countries, Saeji added.

“The West, especially the United States, has been so dominant culturally for so long, and having a different cultural pole to look to provides hope that one’s own country can experience similar success in the future.”

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

Be who you want

Beneath its glitz and glamour, the K-pop industry is also known for its cutthroat competition, a lack of privacy, online bullying and relentless public pressure to maintain a wholesome image at all times and at any cost.

Sulli, a popular K-pop star and former child actress who had long been the target of abusive online comments was found dead on Monday, with her death sending shockwaves through fans around the world.

“I think a day where (people) would be ashamed of the K-show business will surely come,” a South Korean online user wrote in the wake of the star’s death.

“I think an industry that makes money by (making people) sing, dance, undergo plastic surgeries and go on a diet to please the gaze of others since they are teenagers should really go bankcrupt.”

But for Kenny Pham, a finalist from the US at last week’s contest, K-pop’s diversity – with some tunes having dark themes, while others were “cute” or sensual – is what gives him a sense of liberation.

“I like how expressive you could be,” the 19 year old told AFP last week.

“I feel like it’s a place where you could show the passion you have for music, dance or fashion. No one is bashing you for what your likes are.”

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

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Tourism

Saudi Arabia eases visa restrictions for US and European visitors

May Taylor

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Saudi Arabia eases visa restrictions for US and European visitors | The Thaiger

PHOTO: aawsat.com

American and European passport holders, along with those from most Asian countries, can now apply for Saudi Arabian tourist visas either online or on arrival, provided they meet certain criteria.

Prior to this, the only foreigners allowed to visit Saudi Arabia were usually those travelling on business, resident workers and their family members, or Muslim pilgrims on pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina.

In an attempt to boost tourism and diversify the economy’s reliance on oil, the Kingdom has expanded the availability of tourist visas beyond what was initially 49 countries. Visitors from eligible countries no longer need to apply for a visa at an overseas Saudi embassy but can do so online or on arrival.

The multiple-entry visa costs approximately US$120, is valid for a year, and permits a stay of up to 3 months on each entry.

However, authorities in the Kingdom were quick to implement a public decency code following the visa announcement.

“Immodest dress and public displays of affection are banned, but foreign men and women may rent hotel rooms together without having to prove they are married.”

A strict ban on alcohol remains in place.

Last weekend the South Korean band BTS became the first foreigners to hold a solo concert in the Kingdom, allowing teenage and older woman to attend without a male escort and allowing them to dance and sing along (in Korean of course). The band, in turn, turned down some of their ‘ab flashing’ and physicality during their record-breaking “Love Yourself” stadium concert in Riyadh.

The septet were invited to perform in Saudi Arabia as part of the Kingdom’s attempts to become more open to foreigners and diversify their income away from oil production.

SOURCE: Reuters

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Opinion

Buddhists call for boycott of Hilton & Waldorf Astoria Hotels with the opening of Siddhartha Lounge

The Thaiger

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Buddhists call for boycott of Hilton & Waldorf Astoria Hotels with the opening of Siddhartha Lounge | The Thaiger

OPINION: The Buddhist Times

Since its creation in 1996, Buddha-Bar Paris has been using the name and image of Buddha in it’s Bars and Hotels throughout the world. Typically the franchises use large statues of Buddha in their Bars and around dance floors and in restaurants similar to a Buddhist temple.

What makes the use of Buddha’s image in these bars most insulting to Buddhists around the world is that Buddhism does not support the consumption of alcohol. So to use the Buddha’s image as decoration to promote the consumption and sale of alcohol and as a prop on dance floors and in restaurants is especially disrespectful and hurtful to Buddhists.

Now comes a further insult with the Buddha-Bar franchise opening the Siddhartha Lounge at Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah. (Siddhartha Gautama being the full name of Buddha).

According to the Knowing Buddha Organisation in Thailand what the Buddha-Bar franchise is doing is not only disrespectful but it is immoral. The foundation points out that “Respect is Common Sense”.

Buddhists feel hurt by the misuse of the name and image of their father, as people of other faiths would be if the image of Christ or Mohammad were used to promote bars and nightclubs.

The Buddha–Bar, restaurant, and hotel franchise created by French-Romanian restaurateur Raymond Vișan and DJ and interior designer Claude Challe, with its original location having opened in Paris, France in 1996.

Raymond Vișan, according to Wikipedia, had the idea of establishing the chain of restaurants and bars which came from his fascination with the Orient. However at the age of 60 Visan suddenly died of terminal cancer. The franchise was continued by co-founder Claude Challe and Vișan’s wife Tarja, who took over the reins of the Buddha Bar franchise upon Vișan death.

Critics of the Vișan’s and Claude Challe say that these self described artists and creators have created nothing but bad Karma and Sin for themselves. They suggest that Buddha-Bar franchise is a form of “grotesque Plagiarism ” which has merely hi-jacked a 2500 year old religion, using the name and image of Buddha, who imparts peace, compassion and loving kindness, for the purpose of selling alcohol and making money. As any case of plagiarism it is expected that Buddha-Bar and Waldorf Astoria will soon find them selves in the courts say Buddhims advocats.

Buddhist around the world are calling the Boycotting of Waldorf Astoria Hotels Hilton Hotels, Buddha-Bars and the music of Claude Challe, demanding that they stop using the image of Buddha and instead creat their own brand.

The views expressed in this editorial do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of The Thaiger or its staff

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