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Phuket Gazette World News: Cyprus crisis; Aus PM Gillard in leadership battle; Killer bees attack SA school

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Phuket Gazette World News: Cyprus crisis; Aus PM Gillard in leadership battle; Killer bees attack SA school | The Thaiger
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PHUKET MEDIA WATCH
– World news compiled by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Cyprus scrambles to avert meltdown, EU threatens cut-off
Reuters / Phuket Gazette


PHUKET: Cyprus considered nationalising pension funds and ordered banks to stay shut till next week to avert financial chaos after it rejected the terms of a European Union bailout and turned to Russia for aid.

Crisis talks among the political leadership in Nicosia are set to resume today after late-night meetings to discuss a “Plan B” broke up last night without result.

EU officials voiced frustration but little sympathy for an ambitious but now bust banking system that extended itself well beyond the island; Russia, whose citizens have billions to lose in those Cypriot banks, called the EU a “bull in a china shop”.

President Nicos Anastasiades, just a month in office and wrestling with his country’s worst crisis since the Turkish invasion of 1974 that divided Greek- and Turkish-speaking Cypriots, is due to meet party leaders at 9:30am (1:30pm Phuket time).

The deputy leader of his Democratic Rally warned time was running out: “We don’t have days or weeks, we have only hours to save our country,” Averos Neophytou told reporters.

Banks, shut since the weekend, are to stay closed for the rest of the week and so not reopen till Tuesday after a holiday weekend, a government official told Reuters, extending the misery of Cypriot businesses already feeling the pinch.

Without a resolution, the fate of the small nation of just 1.1 million has shaken confidence in the single-currency euro zone and raised geopolitical tension between the EU and Russia.

Finance Minister Michael Sarris extended a stay in Moscow, where Russian officials said he asked for a further 5 billion euros on top of a five-year extension and lower interest on an existing 2.5-billion euro loan from Moscow.

In a vote on Tuesday, the island’s tiny legislature threw out a proposed tax on bank deposits in exchange for a 10-billion euro bailout from the EU, a stunning rejection of the kind of strict austerity accepted over the past three years by crisis-hit Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who was preparing to meet an EU Commission delegation in Moscow on Thursday, said the bloc had behaved “like a bull in a china shop” and likened its proposals, which would force Russian customers to contribute to the rescue of Cypriot banks, to Soviet-era confiscations.

But the European Central Bank kept the pressure on, warning that it would have to pull the plug on Cyprus unless the country, one of the smallest of the 17 members of the euro zone, took a bailout quickly.

Despite the looming threat of default and a banking collapse, Cypriots on Tuesday balked at EU demands for a levy on bank deposits to raise 5.8 billion euros, once taboo in Europe’s handling of the stubborn debt crisis.

Levy still in play?

Anastasiades chaired meetings throughout yesterday with party leaders, ministers and officials from the troika of EU, ECB and International Monetary Fund lenders. The government said a “Plan B” was in the works.

Officials said it could include: an option to nationalise pension funds of semi-government corporations, which hold between 2 billion and 3 billion euros; issuing an emergency bond linked to future natural gas revenues; and possibly reviving the levy on bank deposits, though at a lower level than originally planned and maybe excluding savers with less than 100,000 euros.

With Cypriot Energy Minister George Lakkotrypis also in Moscow, officially for a tourism exhibition, speculation was rife that access to untapped offshore gas reserves could be on the table as part of a deal for Russian aid.

Finance minister Sarris said talks with his Russian counterpart, Anton Siluanov, would continue, but there had not yet been any offers, “nothing concrete.”

Cyprus is a haven for billions of euros squirreled abroad by Russian businesses and individuals – a factor, too, in the reluctance of Germany and other northern euro zone states to bail out Cypriots without a contribution from bank depositors.

The island’s banking sector has been crippled by its exposure to bigger neighbour Greece. Athens said Greek branches of Cypriot banks would also stay shut till the weekend.

Slowing trade

The proposed levy on deposits would have taken nearly 10 percent from accounts over 100,000 euros. Smaller accounts would also have been hit, although the government proposed softening the blow to spare savers with less than 20,000 euros.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, facing an election this year in Europe’s main paymaster Germany, said it was fair to expect those with savings over 100,000 euros – the normal limit for EU state deposit insurance – to contribute to a bailout.

While taxing even small savers was politically explosive, the Cypriot government had balked at sparing them by imposing a higher tax on big depositors – fearing for an offshore banking business that accounts for a big share of its economy.

European officials were growing increasingly exasperated. But the idea of bankruptcy for a member of the euro zone, however small, raises fears for confidence in the currency.

“There is no obligation to accept help,” said Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, whose country does not use the euro. “Cyprus has the possibility of living with its own mistakes.”
Australia PM Gillard called to step aside, hold leadership vote
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard faces a leadership challenge after rivals called for a ballot to resolve months of slipping polls and internal tensions that put her minority Labour government on course to be swept away at September elections.

“This is not personal. It’s about the party, the future of the country,” said senior Labour minister Simon Crean, calling the challenge to break a deadlock between Gillard and chief rival Kevin Rudd, who she deposed in 2010.

Crean, who a former strong Gillard supporter, said Gillard had told him she would not call a leadership vote and he urged Labour Party members now to bring on a ballot under party rules.

If the ruling Labour Party replaces Gillard, that could prompt an early election as a new leader would not have guaranteed support of key independents in Australia’s hung parliament. Gillard has set September 14 as the election date.

Gillard, who replaced Rudd in a partyroom coup in June 2010, has seen her leadership under threat for most of the past two years and her minority government has been unable to turn around a long-running slump in opinion polls, fuelled in part by internal instability, as well as flagging economic conditions.

The conservative opposition led by Tony Abbott is well ahead in opinion polls and has promised to scrap a 30 percent tax on coal and iron ore mine profits, and to scrap an unpopular tax on carbon, if it wins power.

Financial markets had little reaction to the news. The Australian dollar was a shade firmer on the day thanks mainly to a surprisingly strong reading of manufacturing from China, Australia’s biggest export market.

The currency was at $1.0380 and holding in a very tight range. Government bonds hardly budged, with investors assuming future borrowing needs would be much the same whichever leader or party was in power.
— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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Hot News

More coronavirus cases detected in China, global alert for Chinese New Year

The Thaiger

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More coronavirus cases detected in China, global alert for Chinese New Year | The Thaiger
PHOTO: The Conversation

Chinese medical officials have now reported four more cases of the viral pneumonia strain caused by a new coronavirus. The discoveries are causing rising concern that the disease is not fully understand and could spread during the upcoming Chinese New Year holidays.

The new virus, originating in the Chinese city of Wuhan – the apparent epicentre of the outbreak – is believed to belong in the same class of coronaviruses that includes the deadly SARS virus (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed nearly 800 people around the world in 2002/03. That outbreak also started in China.

At this stage all signs are that the virus isn’t as lethal as SARS, but there is still little known about the coronavirus’ origins and how it is transmitted. But it has been established at this stage that it is not spread human to human.

Both Thailand and Japan have confirmed new cases of the virus. In Thailand the patient was detected when arriving on a flight from Wuhan. And Japan’s health ministry reported that a man who had visited the central Chinese city of Wuhan was hospitalised on January 10, four days after his return to Japan.

Both patients have fully recovered.

The new cases detected in China, and the cases detected overseas, are stoking global concerns as many of the 1.4 billion Chinese will head overseas during the Chinese New Year holidays that begin next week and run through to early February.

The Wuhan Health Commission reports that the the four new cases are now in stable condition. 45 cases have been reported in the city as of last Thursday. A second patient died on Wednesday this week. Nearly 50 people are now known to have been infected globally, but all of them either lived in Wuhan or have travelled to the city.

The London Imperial College’s MRC Center for Global Infectious Disease Analysis speculates that there are probably “substantially more cases” of the new coronavirus than currently declared by Wuhan authorities. Their modelling estimates that there would be 1,723 cases showing onset of related symptoms by the second week in January.

Meanwhile US authorities say they are now screening at three airports to detect passengers arriving via direct or connecting flights from Wuhan. And in Asia, authorities in Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand are stepping up monitoring of travellers from Wuhan at airports.

SOURCE: Reuters | Science Alert

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Thailand

Dutchman jailed for 100 years in Thailand for money laundering is released

Greeley Pulitzer

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Dutchman jailed for 100 years in Thailand for money laundering is released | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Johan van Laarhoven walks free after serving six years of a 100 year sentence in Thai prison - The Chiang Rai Times

A Dutch citizen who was jailed for 100 years in Thailand, is now on his way home after years of campaigning for his release. His sentence was reduced to 75 years on appeal and later to 50 years by the Supreme court. Johan van Laarhoven, who ran several cannabis “coffee shops” in Holland, was jailed in Thailand for money laundering, along with his Thai wife, though the offences took place in The Netherlands.

Thai authorities began investigating Van Laarhoven in 2014 after a letter from a Dutch public prosecutor’s office, informing them that he had earned his money selling marijuana and requesting their help. Last year, MPs called on the government to to extradite Van Laarhoven and his wife back to Netherlands. The Dutch justice minister even met with PM Prayut Chan-o-cha and the Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin to discuss the case.

Even though cannabis is legal in the Netherlands, Dutch officials bungled a tax query to Thai authorities regarding the sale of the Dutchman’s cannabis cafe chain. This led to a criminal investigation and his televised arrest in Thailand.

Thai authorities seized the Dutchman’s assets and he was sentenced to 100 years in prison. His young Thai wife, Mingkwan, was jailed for 13 years as an accomplice. The Netherlands has an extradition treaty with Thailand, but it can only be implemented after a case has been ruled “definitive.” Van Laarhoven’s sentence was upheld late last year, clearing the way for a diplomatic solution. It’s unclear whether his wife will be allowed to join him in the Netherlands.

Once back, Van Laarhoven will spend two years in a Dutch jail to complete his sentence, and also face criminal investigation for money laundering. The investigation will focus on tax fraud, membership in a criminal organisation and laundering €20m (675 million baht) according to a Dutch public prosecutor.

SOURCE: The Chiang Rai Times | Dutchnews.nl

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Expats

MSG makes a comeback with a new campaign against the ‘Chinese restaurant syndrome’

The Thaiger

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MSG makes a comeback with a new campaign against the ‘Chinese restaurant syndrome’ | The Thaiger
PHOTO: MSG got a bad rap for 50 years - bostonmagazine.com

MSG, or monosodium glutamate, a common seasoning in many foods from Doritos, to salad-dressing and Thai food, is making a come back. Not that it really went away. But there was 50 years or so when it suffered, unreasonably, a poor reputation.

For years it was branded an unhealthy processed ingredient despite a lack of supporting scientific evidence. It became the whipping boy of Chinese restaurants with people alleging they would suffer from symptoms like dizziness and palpitations after eating Chinese food seasoned with MSG. It even earned the nickname “Chinese restaurant syndrome”.

The Merriam-Webster even added “Chinese restaurant syndrome” to its dictionaries from 1993 after it became somewhat of an urban legend such that it became excepted that a lot of Chinese food contained MSG and that it was, somehow, bad for you. Despite hundreds of studies there has never been any repeatable experiments where it could be proven that monosodium glutamate was bad for consumer’s health or could repeat the alleged side-effects in control groups.

It all started when a biochemist wrote a letter to the New England Journal of Science in 1968 saying that Chinese restaurant food left him “lightheaded and with odd aches and pains”. The next issue of the journal published more purported side-effects.

That grew into a meme that Chinese food was dangerous for you and spread quickly, and even gained some early legitimacy by some medical professionals at the time. A 1969 scientific paper claimed that MSG was “the cause of the Chinese restaurant syndrome,” and said it caused “burning sensations, facial pressure, and chest pain.”

Subsequent scientific studies over the next half century have never been able to validate the 1969 paper’s claims or find any link between the white salt-like substance and any side effects. Studies suggest that any correlation on side effects from eating MSG were probably psychosomatic.

MSG was first introduced in 1908 by a Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda, who was able to isolate unique flavour of a popular broth made from a seaweed called kombu. Ikeda described the flavour as neither salty, sweet, sour or bitter. It was unique. The taste came from the glutamate in the seaweed and earned the new, “fifth taste” which would be called “umami”, neither salty, sweet, sour or bitter.

But MSG has been used as an active ingredient in many Asian foods, not the least Thai food where the white crystals are sprinkled liberally on favourite Thai dishes from the street stalls to the hi-so restaurants.

Now there’s a campaign, “Redefine CRS” headed by Japanese food and seasoning company Ajinomoto to reflect the current knowledge about MSG and the impact of misinformation on the public’s perception of Asian cuisine.

The whole Chinese Restaurant Syndrome was a western construct and never became a ‘thing’ in Asia. So Ajinomoto are calling out the half century of misinformation as “racist”. If MSG was actually dangerous or could conjour up it’s reputed side effects a long list of Asian countries and their populations would be walking around complaining about it.

“To this day, the myth around MSG is ingrained in America’s consciousness, with Asian food and culture still receiving unfair blame. Chinese Restaurant Syndrome isn’t just scientifically false, it’s xenophobic.”

In a video several Asian American figures, restaurateurs, and medical professionals spoke out against the misconceptions surrounding MSG and Chinese food. Famed restaurateur Eddie Huang, whose memoir was adapted into the hit sitcom “Fresh Off the Boat points out that MSG is not only delicious but found in hundreds of commonly used foods we use every day.

“Calling it Chinese restaurant syndrome is really ignorant.”

The campaign proposes a redefinition of “Chinese restaurant syndrome”… “an outdated term that falsely blamed Chinese food containing MSG, or monosodium glutamate, for a group of symptoms.”

Chances are, you’ve eaten it. You light be eating it right now as you snack and scroll through your phone. MSG is a common amino acid naturally found in foods like tomatoes and cheese, which people then figured out how to extract and ferment. This fermented glutamate salt is now used to flavour lots of different foods like stews or chicken stock and seasoning.

A joint study by the World Health Organisation and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation “failed to confirm a link between MSG and the ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’. The syndrome itself was based on “anecdotal” evidence rather than any scientific fact.”

As the new campaign points out, the public scare over MSG unfairly placed the blame on Chinese food. That myth persists in many western countries where Chinese food as is sometimes considered processed, unclean, or unhealthy.

So, head down to your local Chinese restaurant and thoroughly enjoy your meal because it tastes great, along with all the other Asian cuisines you love. If you feel ‘icky, bloated and tingly’ after your meal it’s not the MSG, you probably just ate or drank too much.

As a side note, The Thaiger was involved in an experiment six years ago in Phuket when we had two control groups of three people. The six people were sat down and told we wanted to measure the effects of MSG in their food. All were given a standard Pad Thai Goong. One group was told the meal had been prepared with MSG, the other without MSG. In the interviews after, the group who ate the food prepared with MSG noted they had ‘tingling around their lips’, ‘feeling of flush cheeks’ and ‘racing heartbeat’.

The other group, who were told their meals were prepared without MSG, had no complaints.

Then everyone was told that, in fact, the meals had been switched, so that the group who thought they had consumed MSG had eaten a Pad Thai Going without any MSG.

Hardly a scientifically-validated study but an indication how we can be easily convinced to believe anything.

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