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Phuket Gazette World News: Kenyan president and war crimes; Damascus under siege; 17 jailed for cop bomb plot; Budapest up in arms; Somali rape reporter freed

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Phuket Gazette World News: Kenyan president and war crimes; Damascus under siege; 17 jailed for cop bomb plot; Budapest up in arms; Somali rape reporter freed | The Thaiger
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PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

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

Kenyatta lawyers push international court to drop case
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Lawyers for Kenya’s president-elect, Uhuru Kenyatta, will push the International Criminal Court today to drop charges against him after the case against his co-accused collapsed.

The case against Kenyatta, on charges of crimes against humanity over bloodshed in the aftermath of Kenya’s 2007 election, has been further complicated by his victory in a ballot which was held largely peacefully this month.

The case is also an important test for the court, which was set up more than a decade ago as the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal but has only secured one conviction.

Kenyatta and former civil servant Francis Muthaura were among six suspects initially charged by ICC prosecutors with orchestrating violence after the 2007 election, when some 1,200 people were killed.

But last Monday, prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said the decision of a key witness to recant testimony forced her to drop charges against Muthaura. She said that would have no impact on Kenyatta’s case, which was closely linked.

The status conference, or pre-trial hearing, was called by the judges in The Hague at 3pm (9pm Phuket time) to look at the consequences of the withdrawal of the charges against Muthaura for the case against Kenyatta.

Kenyatta’s lawyers will call for the case against him to be dropped or at least postponed, said one lawyer who was familiar with the case but did not want to be quoted by name.

“The collapse of the case against Muthaura has a profound impact on the viability of the prosecution’s case against Kenyatta,” the lawyer said.

The prosecutions are based on a lot of the same evidence. Both men have always denied any wrongdoing.

Kenyatta, elected by a slim margin, faces a big challenge in bridging Kenya’s ethnic divides even without the court case. His opponent, defeated presidential contender Raila Odinga, challenged the election result in court on Saturday, alleging widespread ballot rigging.

Prosecutors could be expected to resist any moves to drop the charges against Kenyatta, which were brought by Bensouda’s predecessor.

However, lawyers for Kenyatta could also say the prosecution case has changed so much in the past year that the case should be moved back to the pre-trial “confirmation of charges” phase.

The prosecution would then have to show again that it has a strong enough case to go to trial.

Kenyatta’s lawyers have argued that so much information was disclosed by prosecutors at the last minute that the case is fundamentally different from the one judges initially approved.

Judges have not yet formally dropped the case against Muthaura.

Syria rebels seize security compound near Golan
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Syrian rebels seized a Syrian military intelligence compound in the southern Hauran Plain near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights yesterday, stepping up attacks in the strategic region which stretches to the outskirts of the capital Damascus, rebel commanders said.

The frontier, quiet since Israel and Syria agreed on a U.S.-brokered ceasefire in 1974, has turned volatile in recent weeks, after opposition brigades stepped up attacks against army and intelligence compounds dotting the agricultural plain stretching from the border with Jordan to the Damascus outskirts.

At least 70,000 people have been killed since a peaceful protest movement led by Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority broke out two years ago against four decades of family rule by President Bashar al-Assad, who belongs to the minority Alawite sect, and his father, the late Hafez al-Assad.

The demonstrations were met by bullets, eventually sparking a Sunni backlash and a mostly Islamist armed insurgency increasingly spearheaded by the al Qaeda linked al-Nusra Front, creating a political dilemma for regional and Western powers and deepening the Shi’ite-Sunni divide in the Middle East.

The compound near the Yarmouk River in the town of Shagara, 8 km (5 miles) from a ceasefire line with Israel, fell after a five-day siege, the sources said.

“We have completely taken over this security compound this morning. It’s a command centre for the shabbiha (pro-Assad militia). They retreated after strong blows dealt to them during a five day siege,” said Abu Iyas al-Haurani, a member of the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade.

“Anyone who was arrested in the Yarmouk Valley was sent to this military intelligence headquarters to be tortured and it has a strategic importance. With its fall we have completed our liberation of the town of Shagara,” he added.

Another rebel commander said the aim of the attacks in western Hauran is to open a new front in the fight against Assad that would stretch troops deployed in Hauran, cradle of the two-year revolt, and to secure a supply route to the western and southern approaches of Damascus, where battles have been fierce.

Assad’s elite forces, however, remain dug in at Qasioun Mountain in the centre of Damascus.

Damascus under siege

Battles broke out yesterday in the southern Damascus suburb of Sbeineh, a residential area on the main road leading south into Hauran after opposition fighters stormed a compound housing shabbiha militia, activists in the capital said.

Dozens of people were killed and wounded in the fighting and in ensuing army shelling in the town, they added.

Rebel brigades overran last week a missile squadron in Khan Sheihoun, a town southwest of Damascus on the road to the Golan, and seized an army barracks.

Further south, in the old centre of Deraa, Hauran’s main city, situated at the border with Jordan, rebels were trying to take the Omari mosque, scene of killings at a pro-democracy demonstration on March 18, 2011 that sparked the national revolt, but security forces positioned at a nearby post office were fighting back, activist Thaer al-Abdallah said from Deraa.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague interview with Sky News, said yesterday that Britain has “taken no decision at the moment to send arms to anybody in Syria”.

He said sending arms to the opposition had to be weighed against the risks of “international terrorism and extremism taking root in Syria, the risks of Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan being destabilised, and the risks of extreme humanitarian distress.”

Bahrain court jails 17 for trying to kill policemen
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: A Bahrain court sentenced 17 people to 15 years in prison yesterday after convicting them of trying to kill four policemen with a homemade bomb during political unrest last year.

The attackers planted the bomb in a roadblock formed of tyres, palm tree trunks and garbage bins, and detonated it when a police patrol approached, state news agency BNA quoted prosecutor Mamdouh Al-Maawda as saying.

The four policemen were seriously hurt and burned during the attack in April 2012, BNA reported.

The tiny island kingdom has been plagued by sometimes violent street protests since pro-democracy protests led by its Shi’ite Muslim majority erupted in early 2011.

Also yesterday, a group of people attacked a diesel tanker with Molotov cocktails, BNA quote

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Moderna vaccine is proved ‘protective’ against Covid-19 variants

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Moderna vaccine is proved ‘protective’ against Covid-19 variants | The Thaiger
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As fear over new variants of Covid-19 had prompted the travel restrictions to tighten worldwide, the United States biotech firm Moderna announced that its vaccine should protect against the variants identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

Latest studies on the efficacy of Moderna vaccines confirmed that the vaccines are effective and protective against new variants. The company will continue more tests adding a second booster of its vaccine, bringing to 3 shots in a total.

“We are encouraged by these new data, which reinforce our confidence that the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine should be protective against these newly detected variants.”

Last month, a private hospital in Bangkok advertised pre-orders for the Moderna vaccine, which still needs approval from Thailand’s FDA. Thailand’s Department of Health Service Support demanded that the hospital remove the advertisements.

In the ads, the hospital was charging 4,000 baht for a booking of the vaccine. In the post the hospital said the vaccine would arrive in Thailand in October 2021. They also announced that the vaccine would cost 6,000-10,000 baht.

Health officials say private hospitals will be allowed to administer vaccines that are approved by the FDA. So far, the Thai government has only approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use. The first batch of 50,000 doses are expected to arrive next month. Frontline health care workers and vulnerable groups in high risk areas will be first to receive the vaccine.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Florida is ready to host Olympics if Tokyo draws back

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Florida is ready to host Olympics if Tokyo draws back | The Thaiger
PHOTO: abc News

If Tokyo backs out of hosting the Olympics, Florida might step in. The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and rescheduled for this July. With a fairly unpredictable future, Tokyo could back out of its plan to host the Olympics. Florida’s chief financial officer says the Sunshine State is ready.

The CFO, Jimmy Patronis, sent a letter to the head of the International Olympic Committee saying he encourages him to consider relocating the games to Florida.

In a letter, he pointed out strong points of Florida that make it a good site for the games, including the state’s vaccination roll-out, reopening of businesses, and ongoing sports events hosted in the state during the pandemic. Tampa, Florida is also set to host the 55th Super Bowl on February 7.

“Whatever precautions are required let’s figure it out and get it done.”

Although businesses are open and sports events still going on, Florida is rated as the third state with the highest number of Covid-19 cases with a total of 1,658,169 reported cases and 25,446 coronavirus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic.

“With media reports of leaders in Japan ‘privately’ concluding that they are too concerned about the pandemic for the 2021 Olympics to take place, there is still time to deploy a site selection team to Florida.”

But those planning the Tokyo games say they’re sticking with the plan to host the Olympics from July 23 until August 8. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga also says he’s keeping to the plan.

“I am determined to realise a safe and secure Tokyo Games as proof that mankind will have overcome the virus.”

SOURCE:AFP

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AstraZeneca says reports of vaccine’s low efficacy among elderly is “completely incorrect”

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AstraZeneca says reports of vaccine’s low efficacy among elderly is “completely incorrect” | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Finnomena

The pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca says reports that its Covid-19 vaccine has an extremely low efficacy among the elderly is “completely incorrect.” German newspapers published articles today reporting that the AstraZeneca vaccine, developed in partnership with Oxford University, has an efficacy less than 10% in those over 65 years old.

The economic daily Handelsblatt reported that Berlin estimated the vaccine’s efficacy for those over 65 years old was just 8%. The vaccine is set to be approved by the European Union this week, but the report adds that Berlin does not expect the vaccine will receive a license allowing use for the elderly.

AstraZeneca released a statement saying the reports of the low efficacy rate for adults over 65 is “completely incorrect.”

“In November, we published data in The Lancet demonstrating that older adults showed strong immune responses to the vaccine, with 100% of older adults generating spike-specific antibodies after the second dose.”

Thailand is lined up to receive 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine next month and the Thai government has approved the vaccine for emergency use. Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul is now calling on hospitals, both public and private, to prepare for the first phase of vaccinations, starting with health care workers and vulnerable groups in high risk areas. The vaccine requires 2 doses injected 4 to 12 weeks apart.

SOURCES: Reuters | Nation Thailand | AFP

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