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Phuket Gazette World News: Cyprus banks open; Japan ghost town on Street View; Pope includes women; Portugal teeters on austerity

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Phuket Gazette World News: Cyprus banks open; Japan ghost town on Street View; Pope includes women; Portugal teeters on austerity | The Thaiger
PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

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

Cyprus reopens banks under tight restrictions
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Cypriots queued calmly at banks as they reopened yesterday under tight controls imposed on transactions to prevent a run on deposits after the government was forced to accept a stringent EU rescue package to avert bankruptcy.

Banks were shut almost two weeks ago as the government negotiated a 10 billion euro international bailout, the first in Europe’s single currency zone to impose losses on bank depositors.

Bank staff turned up for work early in Nicosia as cash was delivered by armoured trucks, and queues of at least a dozen people formed at some branches in the capital. Doors opened at noon.

Authorities say the emergency rules imposed to limit withdrawals and prevent a bank run will be temporary, initially for seven days, but economists say they will be difficult to lift as long as the economy is in crisis.

The capital controls decree was taped to the windows of bank branches and staff handed out copies to customers. In Nicosia, there was relief, but some apprehension about what might happen.

“You’ve no idea how much I’ve been waiting for this,” said 64-year-old pensioner Froso Kokikou, waiting in line at a branch of Cyprus Popular Bank, also known as Laiki.

“I feel a sense of fear and disappointment having to queue up like this; it feels like a Third World country, but what can you do?” Kokikou said. “This is what they imposed on us and we have to live with it.”

Kostas Nikolaou, a 60-year-old pensioner, said the uncertainty of the past two weeks had been “like a slow death”.

He added: “How can they tell you that you can’t access your own money in the bank? It’s our money, we are entitled to it.”

The Cyprus stock exchange remained closed yesterday.

Container trucks loaded with cash pulled up inside the compound of the central bank in the capital Nicosia on Wednesday night to prepare for the reopening, a central bank source said. A helicopter hovered overhead, and police with rifles were stationed around the compound.

As in all countries that use the euro, Cyprus’s central bank supplies cash for its banks from the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. Officials have promised that enough funds will be on hand to meet demand. The ECB did not comment on reports it had sent extra cash to the island.

A Finance Ministry decree limited cash withdrawals to no more than 300 euros per day and banned the cashing of cheques.

The island’s central bank will review all commercial transactions over 5,000 euros and scrutinise transactions over 200,000 euros on an individual basis. People leaving Cyprus can take only 1,000 euros with them.

With just 860,000 people, Cyprus has about 68 billion euros in its banks – a vastly outsized financial system that attracted deposits from foreigners, especially Russians, as an offshore haven but foundered after investments in neighbouring Greece went sour.

The European Union and International Monetary Fund concluded that Cyprus could not afford a rescue unless it imposed losses on depositors, seen as anathema in previous euro zone bailouts.

Cyprus euro

Cyprus’s financial difficulties have sent tremors through the already fragile single European currency. The imposition of capital controls has led economists to warn that a second-class “Cyprus euro” could emerge, with funds trapped on the island less valuable than euros that can be freely spent abroad.

Reflecting fears of a spillover from the Cypriot crisis, ratings agency Moody’s said it kept euro zone strugglers Ireland and Portugal on negative outlook, citing the Cyprus bailout as an extra risk.

The European Commission said the capital controls were legal and justified under EU law provided they were strictly temporary and proportionate. The EU executive said it would monitor “the need to extend the validity of or revise the measures”.

Many experts are sceptical. In a Reuters poll of economists this week 30 out of 46 said the controls would last months, while 13 expected they would endure a matter of weeks. Three said they could last years.

“This is a typical set of exchange control measures, more reminiscent of Latin America or Africa,” said Bob Lyddon, General Secretary of the international banking association IBOS.

“These are permanent controls until the economy recovers.”

The bailout, agreed in Brussels on Monday, looks set to push Cyprus deeper into an economic slump, shrink the banking sector and cost thousands of jobs.

Cyprus Popular Bank will be closed and its guaranteed deposits of up to 100,000 euros transferred to the biggest bank, Bank of Cyprus.

Deposits of more than 100,000 euros at both banks, too big to enjoy a state guarantee, will be frozen, and some of those funds will be exchanged for shares issued by the banks to recapitalise them.

While big depositors will lose money, the authorities say deposits up to 100,000 euros will be protected. The Cypriot parliament had vetoed an earlier plan, approved by euro zone finance ministers, that would also have hit small depositors.

European leaders said the bailout deal averted a chaotic national bankruptcy that might have forced Cyprus out of the euro. Many Cypriots say the deal was foisted upon them by partners in the 17-nation euro zone, notably EU paymaster Germany, and some have taken to the streets to vent their frustration.

Portugal PM admits court ruling may sink government – report
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Portugal’s premier Pedro Passos Coelho has told his closest colleagues his government may fall if the country’s constitutional court rejects some of his austerity measures, Publico newspaper reported yesterday.

Such a collapse, or a major failure in meeting budget targets, could derail Portugal’s exit from its European Union bailout programme and add another layer to the euro zone crisis, currently focused on Cyprus.

A government spokesman would not comment on the report.

The newspaper said the prime minister had told the permanent commission of his Social Democratic Party the government was unlikely to be able to find alternative measures to compensate, for an unfavourable ruling from the court.

The court, expected to rule in the next few weeks, has been analysing this year’s budget, which includes the largest tax hikes in living memory. Various opposition parties have argued that cuts to pensions, civil servants’ salaries and welfare benefits undermine workers’ basic rights.

A ruling against the plan could compromise around 2 billion euros out of some 5 billion euros in this year’s austerity measures.

Asked about the impending decision on Wednesday, Passos Coelho declined to predict the outcome, but told reporters “the court has to take responsibility for its decisions and for the impact they may have on the country”.

Global food prices fall on lower demand but remain near record levels
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Global food prices have declined in recent months but remain very high, volatile and close to record levels, increasing hunger and malnutrition in the world’s poorer regions and promoting obesity in developed co

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Chiang Rai

Italian busted in Australia smuggling heroin

Greeley Pulitzer

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Italian busted in Australia smuggling heroin | The Thaiger

An 49-year-old Italian has been charged with drug smuggling after arriving at Perth Airport from Chiang Mai. He allegedly had about 300 grams of heroin, worth about 135,000 Australian dollars, hidden inside his body.

After trace technology during a baggage examination showed positive for narcotics, Australian Border Force officers referred him to the Australian Federal Police for an internal exam.

The man was taken to hospital where 63 pellets of heroin were allegedly found in his stomach. X-Rays also revealed three more pellets of heroin had been internally inserted into his rectum.

Italian busted in Australia smuggling heroin | News by The Thaiger

Photo: Australian Border Force

He was charged with importing a controlled drug and faces 25 years in prison.

A spokeman for the Australian Border Forcesaid the ABF is fully aware of the lengths people are willing to go to bring drugs into Australia.

“They not only risk lengthy jail time, but are playing Russian roulette with their own lives and health,” he said.

“Smuggling drugs internally is an incredibly stupid endeavour. Furthermore there is a risk that stomach acid will eat through the wrapping of the heroin, consequently risking a fatal drug overdose,” according to federal police.

SOURCE: chiangraitimes.com

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World

Brexit latest – Five possible scenarios

The Thaiger

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Brexit latest – Five possible scenarios | The Thaiger

Britain’s three year Brexit saga, the UK’s most challenging and debilitating political debacle in decades, has taken another dramatic twist with the outcome still difficult to predict. In a landmark vote, MPs finally backed an EU divorce deal – only moments later rejecting British PM Boris Johnson’s rushed timetable to turn it into law ahead of the country’s scheduled October 31 departure date.

The decision makes that deadline almost impossible to meet, but it does not kill the deal – the first that has got a majority in parliament.

Here are some possible scenarios ahead…

A technical extension

Legislation passed last month stated that unless MPs backed a divorce deal by October 19, Johnson must write to EU leaders asking for Brexit to be postponed for three months to January 31, 2020. The PM reluctantly sent the letter last Saturday, and EU leaders are still considering their response.

European Council President Donald Tusk said yesterday, following the drama in Westminster, that he was now recommending they accept the request. Johnson had earlier told lawmakers who had just defied his bid to fast-track his deal through parliament that he would “pause” the ratification process while the EU decides on an extension.

Although he insisted Britain should still leave on October 31, he may have little choice but to accept a short “technical” delay to allow for a new parliamentary timetable to pass the legislation in the coming weeks.

More delays

Despite Johnson being adamant he will not delay Brexit for months, the EU may also offer Britain the option of a longer extension – which opposition MPs argue the premier would be compelled by law to accept. European leaders could claim a longer delay is necessary to give the country enough time to resolve the issue.

Legislation of this type would normally take months and must be approved again by the House of Commons as well as by the upper House of Lords. There is a real risk MPs could try to hijack its passage and attach various amendments, for example to make approval subject to negotiating a future customs union with the bloc or even to hold a new referendum.

A longer delay could also allow for a general election.

A crash and burn exit

The default legal position is that Britain leaves the EU on October 31 unless the other 27 member states agree to a delay.

Business and markets across Europe fear the shock of a sudden Brexit that even the government’s own assessment says would cause economic damage, raising the chances that the EU will offer an extension.

Despite EU leaders claiming they would never cause a no-deal Brexit, their decision to offer a delay must be unanimous and any one of the 27 member states could block such a move. In that highly unlikely scenario, Britain would crash out of the bloc at the end of next week.

Another general election

Johnson warned MPs ahead of the votes yesterday that he would pull his Brexit deal legislation and try to hold a general election if they rejected his timetable – although he did not repeat the threat afterwards.

Riding high in the polls, he has already unsuccessfully tried twice to get an early election to win back a majority in parliament, and seemed buoyed by having secured MPs’ initial approval for his new Brexit deal. But he needs the support of the main opposition Labour Party for an election to be called and it has so far resisted.

Labour says it would back an election when the threat of a “no deal” Brexit is off the table.

Another referendum

Labour says any deal should be subject to a new referendum, and has promised to call one if it takes office. Some MPs may try to force the issue during the passage of the Brexit deal legislation, although it is far from clear that they have the numbers to succeed.

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

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ASEAN

Human hair trade exploits ASEAN women

Greeley Pulitzer

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Human hair trade exploits ASEAN women | The Thaiger

Hair extensions have become an essential part of the multi-billion-dollar hair industry, with estimated annual sales of 250 million to over 1 billion USD. Based on a 2018 Research and Markets report, the global hair, wigs and extension market is expected to surpass 10 billion USD by 2023.

Raw human hair has significant commercial value: it’s a coveted commodity to be processed into hair extensions and wigs. According to a report by the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), the global value for human hair exports in 2017 was 126 million USD. Asia exported 72.4 million USD, accounting for 58 percent of the global trade.

In India, the Tirupati Balaji temple earns 10 percent of its income through auctioning hair donated by devotees, raking in a profit of 25 million to 40 million USD annually.

There are three categories for collected hair: Remy, non-Remy and virgin hair. Remy is usually obtained from temple donations and is of the highest grade. Non-Remy hair is a lower grade, collected from individuals, and is typically broken or short. Virgin hairhas never been chemically treated.

In Southeast Asia, long hair is esteemed as a mark of beauty with deep religious and social meaning, especially in Buddhist countries. While most brands opt to acquire hair from India where it’s donated for religious reasons, in Southeast Asia, traders target impoverished areas to buy hair from desperately poor people whose poverty makes them easy prey. Hair extensions in the US can cost 500 to 2000 USD, but the owner of the hair usually receives only a fraction of that. For example, Nguyen Thi Thuy of Vietnam says the highest she has ever been offered for her hair is 70,000 Vietnamese dong, or 3 USD. Pheng Sreyvy from Cambodia fared slightly better at 15 USD for her locks.

According to the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association, women don’t know how to bargain over the price of hair. “They decided to sell their hair because they are poor, and they don’t know where to sell their hair for international market price,” a spokeswoman said.

The high value of human hair has made hair-theft muggings a recurrent problem in some countries, and some companies have resorted to chemical processing or a mixture of human and goat hair.

Increased awareness of exploitation has prompted many companies to collect hair from more transparent and ethical sources. While the human hair trade has provided many communities with income and opportunities, practices that exploit and deprive women of opportunities continue.

SOURCE: theaseanpost.com

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