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Phuket Gazette World News: Greece faces massive layoffs; NK demands Panama free arms ship; Rolling Stone outrage; Taliban asks Malala to come home

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Phuket Gazette World News: Greece faces massive layoffs; NK demands Panama free arms ship; Rolling Stone outrage; Taliban asks Malala to come home | The Thaiger
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PHUKET MEDIA WATCH
– World news compiled by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

North Korea demands Panama free seized ship carrying arms
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: North Korea demanded on Thursday the release of its ship held in Panama with what appear to be missile radar and other weapons loaded in Cuba, saying it was sailing under a legitimate deal and calling the initial suspicion of drugs on board “a fiction.”

“The Panamanian investigation authorities rashly attacked and detained the captain and crewmen of the ship on the plea of ‘drug investigation’ and searched its cargo but did not discover any drug,” North Korea’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

“This cargo is nothing but aging weapons which are to send back to Cuba after overhauling them according to a legitimate contract,” the spokesman was quoted as saying by the official KCNA news agency.

“The Panamanian authorities should take a step to let the apprehended crewmen and ship leave without delay.”

Panamanian authorities seized the North Korean freighter and found what appeared to be components for Soviet-era missile radar system under sacks of brown sugar.

The ship was stopped last week as it headed into the Panama Canal and authorities arrested the crew on Monday after finding undeclared missile-shaped objects, a potential violation of U.N. sanctions linked to the North’s nuclear and missile programmes.

Panama said on Wednesday that it had asked the United Nations to determine the legality of the cargo.

Cuba, which has close diplomatic ties with North Korea, said the cargo contained “obsolete defensive weaponry” being sent back to North Korea for repairs and included anti-aircraft missile batteries, disassembled rockets and fighter jet parts.

Security experts said there was a possibility North Korea was trying to import the equipment and the explanation about repairing the items may be a disguise.

Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations said the ship appears to have violated U.N. arms embargo on North Korea.

North Korea has been under wide-ranging sanctions under Security Council resolutions since 2006 that ban trade of most types of weapons after conducting missile and nuclear tests in defiance of international condemnation.

It tested a nuclear device for the third time in February that led to the adoption of the latest Security Council resolution that tightened the sanctions regime.

Greece approves scheme to fire thousands of public workers
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Greece’s shaky coalition government scraped through a vote on Wednesday on a bill to sack public sector workers as thousands chanting anti-austerity slogans protested outside parliament.

The vote was the first major test for Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s two-party coalition since losing an ally over the abrupt shutdown of the state broadcaster last month, which left it with a scant five-seat majority in the 300-seat parliament.

After midnight on Wednesday, 153 lawmakers out of the 293 present voted in favour of the bill, whose passage was required to unlock nearly 7 billion euros (6 billion pounds) in aid from European Union and International Monetary Fund lenders.

The bill includes deeply divisive plans for a transfer and layoff scheme for 25,000 public workers – mainly teachers and municipal police – that had triggered a week of almost daily marches, rallies and strikes in protest.

About 5,000 Greeks flooded the street outside parliament as the vote neared, with some chanting: “We will not succumb, the only option is to resist” and holding aloft black balloons – though turnout was much smaller than in protests last year.

“After 12 years on the job, they fire us in one night,” Patra Hatziharalampous, a 52-year-old school guard in uniform said between sobs. “If they have any guts, they should say no to the bailout and take some of the bill’s articles back.”

The reforms were passed hours before German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble – Europe’s leading proponent of austerity blamed by many Greeks for their woes – arrives in Athens for his first visit to Greece since the debt crisis began in 2009.

Before the vote, Samaras announced Greece’s first tax cut since its crisis began nearly four years ago, in a bid to placate protests and an increasingly restive public mood.

“We will not relax,” Samaras said in a surprise television address to announce that value-added tax (VAT) in restaurants would be cut to 13 percent from 23 percent starting August 1.

“We will continue climbing up the hill, we will reach the top, which is not far, and better days will come for our people.”

In a clip that became an instant hit on social media site Twitter, television stations accidentally showed Samaras fumbling at an initial attempt to read the statement and swearing “Damn my head, ******” as he walked off the podium.

Drawing blood

The government had made a show of arguing for the restaurant VAT cut during its latest talks with lenders, and analysts said the move was a symbolic attempt to show austerity-hit Greeks that there was light at the end of the tunnel.

Samaras said the cut would help curb tax evasion, a major problem in the country and one of the reasons it slid into a debt crisis in 2009, but warned that if evasion persisted VAT would revert to 23 percent.

“The crucial thing is that it was announced now and not after the summer,” said Thomas Gerakis, head of Marc Pollsters. “How it will benefit consumers remains to be seen.”

Athens has been limping along on two bailouts worth over 240 billion euros ($315 billion) since 2010, which it has secured at the price of wage cuts and tax rises that have triggered a six-year recession and sent unemployment to 27 percent.

The latest bill agreed with lenders includes a luxury tax on houses with swimming pools and owners of high performance cars.

But the move that has drawn the most anger is the plan to place 25,000 workers into the layoff scheme by the end of 2013, giving them eight months to find another position or get laid off. Greece’s public sector is widely seen as oversized, inefficient and filled with patronage hires, but many Greeks believe society can no longer go tolerate cuts or tax hikes.

Uniformed municipal police, garbage collectors in orange vests and hundreds of other public sector workers have taken to the streets of Athens almost daily on motorbikes in over a week of protests, blowing whistles, honking horns and blaring sirens.

Rolling Stone photo of accused Boston bomber draws outrage
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Boston officials reacted with outrage Wednesday to an upcoming cover of Rolling Stone magazine featuring an image of accused marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev that was described by Mayor Thomas Menino as “a disgrace.”

While the magazine defended its decision, drugstore chain CVS Caremark Corp refused to sell it.

“It’s a total disgrace, that cover of Rolling Stone,” Menino told reporters at the opening of a rail station. “It should have been about survivors or first responders. Why are we glorifying a guy who created mayhem in the city of Boston? I am going to be in touch with the publishers and tell them how I feel about it

— 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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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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