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Phuket Gazette World News: Dogged by dissent, Israel frees 26; Politicians talk too much – Britain; NSA defends spying

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Phuket Gazette World News: Dogged by dissent, Israel frees 26; Politicians talk too much – Britain; NSA defends spying | The Thaiger
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PHUKET MEDIA WATCH
– World news compiled by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Dogged by dissent, Israel frees 26 Palestinian prisoners
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Israel freed 26 Palestinian prisoners on Wednesday, the second stage of a limited amnesty designed to help U.S.-sponsored peace talks that have been dogged by divisions on both sides.

The inmates, convicted of murder in the killing of Israelis before or just after interim accords were signed two decades ago, were bussed from jail at midnight to welcoming parties in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Though thousands of Palestinians remain in Israeli custody, the releases could help the credibility of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s engagement with the Jewish state, which is scorned by armed Islamist Hamas rivals who rule Gaza.

Negotiations between Abbas’s administration and Israel resumed in Washington in July after a three-year halt. Held in secret, they have done little to reassure Palestinians who worry about Jewish settlement of the West Bank or Israelis who doubt Abbas could hold Hamas to any future peace agreement.

Yet neither side in the talks wants to disappoint an Obama administration which has ranked reconciling them as a top Middle East policy goal. Another is curbing Iran’s disputed nuclear programme, in which Israel sees a mortal menace.

“As one who spent most of his adult life fighting Palestinian terror, in Israel and abroad, this is no easy event for me,” Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said in a speech, referring to the prisoner release.

He said that Israel “has been confronted with sensitive diplomatic circumstances and weighty strategic considerations in recent months, which require that we take difficult and painful steps. This is not a black-and-white situation.”

In all, 104 long-serving inmates will go free. A first group of 26 were let out in August as part of understandings reached during shuttle diplomacy by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who set a 9-month framework for the negotiations.

Celebration, recrimination

Hundreds of prisoners’ relatives and well-wishers gathered at Abbas’s office in the West Bank city of Ramallah to receive 21 of the released men with predawn celebrations. “Our heroes are coming home, long live the prisoners,” they chanted.

The other five ex-prisoners went to Gaza, where similar festivities were prepared just over the border from Israel.

The Palestinian Cabinet issued a statement describing the releases as a beginning to a full eventual prisoner amnesty and statehood in the West Bank, including adjacent East Jerusalem, and Gaza. Palestinians, it said, would reject any attempt by Israel to “trade” prisoners for continued settlement-building.

Yet Abbas peace envoy Saeb Erekat said the Palestinians had shelved applications to U.N. institutions open to them since the international forum implicitly recognised their statehood claim last year. Those institutions include the International Criminal Court, where Palestinians might have sued Israel over the settlements, considered illegal by most world powers.

“A heavy price was paid, but a self-respecting country would go through war to return these symbols of Palestine, some of whom have spent 19, even as many as 30 years in prison,” Erekat told Palestine TV.

Wednesday’s release opened fissures in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightist government. A pro-settler coalition partner, the Jewish Home party, openly backed calls by Israelis bereaved or wounded in Palestinian attacks to cancel the amnesty. An appeal against it lodged with Israel’s Supreme Court was overruled on yesterday evening, however.

“The release of terrorists in return for (Israeli chief negotiator) Tzipi Livni’s dubious right to meet Erekat is very grave,” said Jewish Home, which opposes Palestinian statehood.

In an apparent bid to appease Jewish Home and hardliners within Netanyahu’s own Likud party, government officials said new housing projects would be announced soon in West Bank settlement blocs that Israel plans to keep in any future peace deal.

U.N. diplomats talking too much? Turn off microphones, says Britain
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant suggested a new tactic yesterday to stop diplomats at the United Nations from speaking for too long – turn off their microphones.

During a recent visit with the U.N. Security Council to the African Union Peace and Security Council in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, Lyall Grant was impressed by its procedures.

“I, for one, would support implementing here the African Union Peace and Security Council practice of cutting off speakers who have exceeded their allotted time by turning off their microphones,” Lyall Grant told the Security Council.

Speakers at U.N. meetings can be limited by the president using a gavel, but this is rare.

Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi addressed the U.N. General Assembly in 2009 for 1 hour and 35 minutes, while in 1960, Cuba’s Fidel Castro took to the U.N. podium to blast U.S. imperialism for about four hours.

The Security Council “encourages” U.N. members to deliver statements at meetings in five minutes or less. During Britain’s presidency of the council in June, Lyall Grant cut off several speakers, some of whom officially complained.

“It is entirely possible to keep to short interventions without limiting the ability of member states to fully express their views,” Lyall Grant said. “I am sure this would also be the case if we did adopt the African Union practice.”

NSA chief defends agency amid U.S. spy rift with Europe
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: The U.S. National Security Agency director yesterday defended the spy agency as acting within legal boundaries, amid a public uproar which has grown from anger over the collection of Americans’ phone and email records to outrage over spying on European allies.

General Keith Alexander offered an impassioned defence of the beleaguered intelligence agency, telling the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee that the NSA is focused on preventing attacks on Americans and allies, and operates under strict oversight.

“It is much more important for this country that we defend this nation and take the beatings than it is to give up a program that would result in this nation being attacked,” Alexander said, referring to criticism of his agency.

Under sympathetic questioning from the committee chairman, Representative Mike Rogers, Alexander called media reports in France, Spain and Italy that the NSA collected data on tens of millions of phone calls in those countries “completely false.”

Some of the data referenced in documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden was collected not just by the NSA itself but was also “provided to NSA by foreign partners,” he said. “This is not information that we collected on European citizens. It represents information that we and our NATO allies have collected in defence of our countries and in support of military operations.”

Rogers warned that collecting foreign intelligence was important to protecting Americans and allies from terrorism.

“Every nation collects foreign intelligence. That is

— 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.

Coronavirus (Covid-19)

France and Germany back in lockdown amid resurgence of Covid-19 in Europe

Maya Taylor

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France and Germany back in lockdown amid resurgence of Covid-19 in Europe | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Andreas Selter on Unsplash

The leaders of France and Germany are once again having to introduce national lockdowns as the Covid-19 virus continues to surge across Europe. France is now recording over 36,000 (+36,437 yesterday) new cases a day, while Germany, which fared slightly better than other European countries during the first wave of the virus, is now seeing a dramatic rise in cases as winter approaches (+16,202 yesterday).

In announcing the new lockdown in France, President Emmanuel Macron warned that the country faces a second wave that could be worse than the first. Strict measures come into effect from tomorrow, with people not permitted to leave their homes unless it is to seek medical attention, purchase essential items, or to exercise for a maximum of an hour a day. However, schools remain open and people can still go to work if it is not possible for them to do their job from home.

“The virus is circulating at a speed that not even the most pessimistic forecasts had anticipated. Like all our neighbours, we are submerged by the sudden acceleration of the virus. We are all in the same position: overrun by a second wave which we know will be harder, more deadly than the first.”

France and Germany back in lockdown amid resurgence of Covid-19 in Europe | News by The Thaiger

Over in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has confirmed that from next Monday, November 2, to the end of November, all bars, restaurants, and theatres will close. Schools will remain open and shops will be permitted to operate under strict conditions. The chancellor warns that the measures are vital to protect the country’s healthcare system.

“We need to take action now. Our health system can still cope with this challenge today, but at this speed of infections, it will reach the limits of its capacity within weeks.”

Confirmation of lockdowns in Europe’s biggest economies caused stock markets around the world to plummet, with European markets closing at their lowest level since late May. The S&P 500, which measures the performance of the 500 largest publicly traded companies in the US, was down 3%.

France and Germany back in lockdown amid resurgence of Covid-19 in Europe | News by The Thaiger

Meanwhile, with just 5 days to go before the presidential election, the US continues to set records with its rising numbers of virus cases. President Trump, however, remains undeterred, as he continues to hold public rallies, with many supporters not wearing masks.

France and Germany back in lockdown amid resurgence of Covid-19 in Europe | News by The Thaiger

SOURCE: SBS News

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World

Son of Sultan of Brunei dies at the age of 38

Maya Taylor

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Son of Sultan of Brunei dies at the age of 38 | The Thaiger
PHOTO: The Scoop

The son of the Sultan of Brunei has died at the age of 38, the government of Brunei has confirmed. Prince Azim, who was 4th in line to the throne, passed away on Saturday morning. While the cause of death has not been confirmed, his Wikipedia entry says he succumbed to a long illness.

CNN reports that the prince had made a name for himself as a Hollywood film producer, where he was known for hosting extravagant parties with celebrity guests that included Mariah Carey, Pamela Anderson, and Janet Jackson, among others. His success in film came despite international condemnation of his father’s harsh rule in Brunei, where parts of Sharia law are in force and capital punishment involves death by stoning.

The nation of Brunei has entered a 7-day mourning period, with leaders from neighbouring countries expressing their condolences on the death of the prince. A statement from the Indonesian embassy in Brunei said Prince Azim, “will always be remembered fondly.” The prime minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, described him as someone who was, “known for his kind and generous spirit, and for his dedication to charitable, educational, and youth causes.”

SOURCE: CNN

 

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Malaysian PM called to quit, criticised for “abuse of power” during Covid-19 crisis

Caitlin Ashworth

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Malaysian PM called to quit, criticised for “abuse of power” during Covid-19 crisis | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Facebook: Muhyiddin Yassin

While protesters in Thailand are calling on PM Prayut Chan-o-cha to resign, the Malaysia PM Muhyiddin Yassin is experiencing similar calls after he attempted to declare a state of emergency amid a rise in Covid-19 infections, but the request was rejected by the Malaysian King.

Some say the prime minister’s attempt to impose the order was intended to suspend parliament and “curb the government process”. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim recently claimed he had the majority of support in parliament and challenged the prime minister. He suggested the call for a state of emergency was to avoid a vote on the annual supply bill which he may have lost, effectively a vote of no confidence in the current PM and his government.

When Muhyiddin requested a state of emergency, Anwar said the Malaysian PM was trying to “curb the parliamentary process.” He said using the Covid-19 crisis as an excuse to suspend sessions is an “abuse of power” and called the state of emergency request a “descent into dictatorship and authoritarianism.”

“A state of emergency is declared when there is a threat to our national security. But when the government is itself the source of that threat, then a state of emergency is nothing more than the descent into dictatorship and authoritarianism. I strongly advise Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to consider the legacy of these actions he is taking out of self interest and selfishness.”

Anwar released another media statement after the Malaysian King’s refusal saying it “affirms the strength of the constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy.”

King Al-Sultan Abdullah rejected the emergency order request yesterday. The prime minister holds a slim majority in parliament, but with his request rejected by the King, his hold on power is now palpably weaker. Now some leaders are calling on Muhyiddin to resign.

Ahmad Puad Zarkashi, a senior leader in the United Malays National Organisation made a Facebook post calling on the prime minister to resign.

“Thankfully, His Majesty the King was not influenced by the political game that could drag the country into more critical territory… The people’s wellbeing is more important. By right, Muhyiddin should step down.”

Opposition lawmaker Wong Chen calls the proposal for a state of emergency “malicious” and says the prime minister should resign or fire ministers who proposed the emergency orders.

SOURCES: Reuters | Twitter: Anwar Ibrahim

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