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Phuket Gazette World News: Cyprus banks brace; France threatens EU-US trade; Damascus inner-city siege

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Phuket Gazette World News: Cyprus banks brace; France threatens EU-US trade; Damascus inner-city siege | The Thaiger
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PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

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

France threatens to delay quick start of EU-U.S. trade talks
Reauters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: France threatened on Monday to delay the swift start of EU-U.S. trade talks if its red lines on culture and farm produce are not respected.

Brussels and Washington hope to start negotiations in June on a transatlantic free-trade agreement that would encompass almost half the world’s economy, and are seeking as broad a deal as possible to deliver strong economic growth.

The negotiating mandate proposed earlier this month by the European Commission, which has kept its contents secret, must be approved by EU governments before the talks can start.

“It is out of the question to work with a mandate that is hurriedly put together,” Trade Minister Nicole Bricq told a news conference. “We want a deal but we shouldn’t rush into talks.”

In particular, a European Commission proposal to further open up European culture markets was “not acceptable,” said Bricq.

France’s support is crucial as a similar drive in the 1990s collapsed in the face of French resistance. While France is on board this time around, its enthusiasm is more muted than among free-trade advocates Britain and Germany.

“We want to exclude from the deal anything that is about culture… that’s non-negotiable,” Bricq said, referring to French laws that allow the government to restrict foreign radio and television programmes and subsidise French films.

Asked about the June target, Bricq said: “If the Commission agrees to take out its reference to culture why not, but it’s a pre-requisite.”

Bricq said France would be as firm on its demand to exclude genetically modified products in food, and hormones in meat.

France has made protecting its film, television and music a priority in international trade talks for more than 20 years, insisting that culture should be treated differently to other industries.

The United States and the European Commission hope for a free-trade deal by the end of 2014 – a tight deadline in complex international trade talks that usually take years.

But Bricq warned that talks would be long and might last several years.

Bricq, who met French businesses on Monday to discuss the planned EU-US trade pact, said most of them backed launching the talks although the audiovisual sector asked to be exempted.

Protracted talks on an EU-Canada trade deal, for which an initial end-2011 timeline has slipped, show that it was important to agree a firm mandate before starting negotiations, she said. “For Canada, the mandate was very weak,” she said.

The two sides disagree on issues related to farm exports, intellectual property and cultural diversity, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said this month.

Cyprus girds for run on banks after sealing bailout
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: The president of Cyprus assured his people a bailout deal he struck with the European Union was in their best interests, but banks will remain closed until Thursday – and even then subject to capital controls to prevent a run on deposits.

Returned from fraught negotiations in Brussels, President Nicos Anastasiades said late on Monday the 10-billion euro (379.8bn baht) rescue plan agreed there in the early hours of the morning was “painful” but essential to avoid economic meltdown.

He agreed to close down the second-largest bank, Cyprus Popular, and inflict heavy losses on big depositors, many of them Russian, after Cyprus’s outsize financial sector ran into trouble when its investments in neighbouring Greece went sour.

European leaders said a chaotic national bankruptcy that might have forced Cyprus from the euro and upset Europe’s economy was averted – though investors in other European banks are alarmed by the precedent of losses for depositors in Cyprus.

“The agreement we reached is difficult but, under the circumstances, the best that we could achieve,” Anastasiades said in a televised address to the nation on Monday evening.

“We leave behind the uncertainty and anxiety that we all lived through over the last few months and we look forward now to the future with optimism,” he told compatriots who face an immediate, deep recession and years of hardship unlikely to be milder than those experienced by Irish, Greeks and Portuguese.

Many Cypriots say they felt anything but reassured by the bailout deal, however, and are expected to besiege banks as soon as they reopen after a shutdown that began over a week ago.

Reversing a previous decision to start reopening at least some banks on Tuesday, the central bank said late on Monday that they would all now stay shut until Thursday to ensure the “smooth functioning of the whole banking system”.

Little is known about the restrictions on transactions that Anastasiades said the central bank would impose, but he told Cypriots: “I want to assure you that this will be a very temporary measure that will gradually be relaxed.”

Capital controls, preventing people moving funds out of the country, are at odds with the European Union’s ideals of a common market but the government may fear an ebb tide of panic that would cause even more disruption to the local economy.

Without an agreement by the end of Monday, Cyprus had faced certain banking collapse and risked becoming the first country to be pushed out of the European single currency – a fate that Germany and other northern creditors seemed willing to inflict on a nation that accounts for just a tiny fraction of the euro economy and whose banks they felt had overreached themselves.

Backed by euro zone finance ministers, the plan will wind down the largely state-owned Cyprus Popular Bank, known as Laiki, and shift deposits under 100,000 euros to the Bank of Cyprus to create a “good bank”, leaving problems behind in, effectively, a “bad bank”.

Deposits above 100,000 euros in both banks, which are not guaranteed by the state under EU law, will be frozen and used to resolve Laiki’s debts and recapitalise the Bank of Cyprus, the island’s biggest, through a deposit/equity conversion.

Precedent set

The raid on uninsured Laiki depositors is expected to raise 4.2 billion euros of the 5.8 billion euros the EU and IMF had told Cyprus to raise as a contribution to the bailout, Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said.

Cyprus government spokesman Christos Stylianides said losses for uninsured depositors would be “under or around 30 percent”.

Laiki will effectively be shuttered, with thousands of job losses. Officials said senior bondholders in Laiki would be wiped out and those in Bank of Cyprus would have to make a contribution – setting a precedent for the euro zone.

Comments by Dijsselbloem on the need for lenders to banks to accept the potential risks of their failure had a knock-on effect in the euro zone, raising the cost of insuring holdings of bonds issued by other banks, notably in Italy and Spain.

Global equity markets and the euro retreated on his comment that the Cyprus bailout could be a template for solving other problems, by shifting more risk to depositors and stakeholders:

“What we’ve done last night is what I call pushing back the risks,” Dijsselbloem, who heads the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers, told Reuters and the Financial Times.

A first attempt at a deal 10 days ago had

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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World

15,000+ Covid-19 patients in Japan on waiting list for hospitals and health care accommodations

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15,000+ Covid-19 patients in Japan on waiting list for hospitals and health care accommodations | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Kyodo News

Thousands of people in Japan who are infected with Covid-19 are on the waiting list for hospitals or other accommodations for those with the virus due to the rising number of cases. Kyoto News conducted a survey and reports at least 15,058 are on the waiting list for proper treatment and accommodation.

The number of new infections in Japan has been growing sharply since last November. Last Tuesday, Japan saw a rapid increase of new infections, including Tokyo. According to the WHO’s report as of yesterday, Japan recorded 4,587 new cases, 360,661 confirmed cases and 5,019 deaths.

In Japan, local public health officials are in charge of arranging hospital stays and treatment for people infected with the virus as well as the appropriate accommodation for people with mild symptoms. The process of making those arrangements is taking longer, and the newly infected people are forced to stay home because of bed shortages. Some are reported dead in their houses.

A survey by Kyodo News found Tokyo had the most infected people waiting to be hospitalised or accommodated at other facilities, jumping 4.8 times from 1,563 as of December 19 to 7,539. Every prefecture has reported a similar rise.

On January 7, Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga declared a state of emergency for 11 prefectures out of a total of 47 prefectures until February 7. Under the state of emergency, people are asked to stay home and restaurants are urged to shorten their opening hours.

SOURCE: Kyodo News

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Anti-lockdown protests in the Netherlands turn violent, Covid-19 testing centre burnt down

Caitlin Ashworth

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Anti-lockdown protests in the Netherlands turn violent, Covid-19 testing centre burnt down | The Thaiger
Screenshot via The Independent

Violence broke out in the Netherlands and a Covid-19 testing centre was burnt down after a nationwide curfew was imposed over the weekend to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. In Eindhoven and Amsterdam, riot police deployed water cannons to disperse the crowds of anti-lockdown protesters.

The Netherlands has been under a tough lockdown since mid-December, leading to clashes between anti-lockdown protesters and police. Just last week, police in Amsterdam used the water cannon on hundreds of protesters. Local officials say the riot police had been called to break up the crowd because people weren’t abiding by social distancing measures.

On Saturday, a new 9pm to 4:30am curfew was imposed, tightening the already tough restrictions. As the curfew went into effect that night, rioters set fire to a portable coronavirus testing facility by a harbour in Urk, a fishing town around 80 kilometres northeast of Amsterdam. That night and early the next morning, 3,600 people in the Netherlands were fined for breaching the new curfew. Police say 25 people were arrested for breaching the curfew and violence.

Local officials say the riots in Urk were a “slap in the face, especially for the local health authority staff who do all they can at the test centre to help people from Urk.”

The next day, in the southern city Eindhoven, rioters threw rocks at police and set fires in the centre of the city. Riot police used water cannons and tear gas to break up the crowds. Rocks and shattered glass littered a central square in the city. At least 55 people were arrested, according to the Associated Press.

In the capital of Amsterdam, police used a water cannon to break up a group of anti-lockdown protesters. The Associated Press says more than 100 people were arrested.

SOURCE: Associated Press

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Crime

Asia’s biggest drug kingpin arrested in Netherlands

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Asia’s biggest drug kingpin arrested in Netherlands | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Sky News

Asia’s biggest drug kingpin is under arrest in the Netherlands after years of authorities chasing him worldwide. 57 year old Tse Chi Lop, a Chinese-born Canadian citizen, was arrested by Dutch police acting on a request by Australia’s federal police.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime named him as the suspected leader of the Asian mega-cartel known as “Sam Gor”, a major producer and supplier of methamphetamines worldwide. Tse is commonly compared to the Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

Sam Gor is suspected of laundering billions in drug money through businesses such as casinos, real estate and hotels in Southeast Asia’s Mekong region. Australia’s federal police said Friday’s arrest came after a 2012 operation that arrested 27 people linked to a crime syndicate spanning five countries. The groups was accused of importing large amounts of heroin and methamphetamine into Australia, according to police.

“The syndicate targeted Australia over a number of years, importing and distributing large amounts of illicit narcotics, laundering the profits overseas and living off the wealth obtained from crime.”

The arrest of Tse Chi Lop almost 10 years after that operation’s launch is a major break for Australian authorities. The country’s attorney-general will now begin preparing a formal extradition request for the alleged drug lord to face trial.

Most of Asia’s meth comes from “Golden Triangle” border areas between Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and southwest China. The production of methamphetamine, either in tablet form or the highly potent crystalised “ice” version, take place in Myanmar’s eastern north Shan state. Ketamine and fentanyl are also produced there as well, mostly in ‘portable’ labs that hide underneath the thick rainforest canopy.

In 2018 alone, Thailand netted more than 515 million methamphetamine tablets, a number 17 times the amount for the entire Mekong region 10 years ago. Traffickers are constantly finding more creative ways to ship their products as drug busts are featured daily on the news in those regions.

SOURCE: The Bangkok Post

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