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Phuket Gazette World News: Microsoft implicated in NSA Prism scandal; Ireland passes limited abortion law; Russia alleges Syrian rebels used chemical weapons

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Phuket Gazette World News: Microsoft implicated in NSA Prism scandal; Ireland passes limited abortion law; Russia alleges Syrian rebels used chemical weapons | The Thaiger

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

Microsoft helped NSA, FBI access user info – Guardian
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Microsoft Corp worked closely with U.S. intelligence services to help them intercept users’ communications, including letting the National Security Agency circumvent email encryption, the Guardian reported on Thursday.

Citing top-secret documents provided by former U.S. spy contractor Edward Snowden, the UK newspaper said Microsoft worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the NSA to ease access via Prism – an intelligence-gathering program uncovered by the Guardian last month – to cloud storage service SkyDrive.

Microsoft also helped the Prism program collect video and audio of conversations conducted via Skype, Microsoft’s online chat service, the newspaper added.

Microsoft had previously said it did not provide the NSA direct access to users’ information. On Thursday, it repeated that it provides customer data only in response to lawful government requests.

“To be clear, Microsoft does not provide any government with blanket or direct access to SkyDrive, Outlook.com, Skype or any Microsoft product,” the company said in a statement on its website.

Facebook Inc, Google Inc and Microsoft had all publicly urged U.S. authorities to allow them to reveal the number and scope of the surveillance requests after documents leaked to the Washington Post and the Guardian suggested they had given the government “direct access” to their computers as part of the NSA’s Prism program.

The disclosures have triggered widespread concern and congressional hearings about the scope and extent of the information-gathering.

Ireland votes to allow limited abortion rights for first time
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Ireland’s parliament voted on Friday to allow abortion under certain conditions for the first time, following months of polarising debate in the Catholic country including letters to the premier written in blood.

Prime Minister Enda Kenny has provoked protest from both sides of the debate by pushing through a compromise that will allow abortion, but only when a woman’s life is in danger. His governing party has faced down more rebels over the issue than it did over its harsh austerity measures.

After a marathon debate that ran past midnight for the second night in a row, lawmakers passed the bill by 127-31. The vote was greeted with applause.

“It is the very, very bare minimum of a bill, but at the same time it feels like the end of an era,” said Eleanor White, 21, one of a handful of pro-abortion rights activists gathered outside parliament, who were outnumbered by opponents of the bill.

“We are getting to the end of the role the Catholic Church has had in Ireland,” she said.

Anti-abortion activists nearby prayed and cheered deputies who opposed the bill as they left the parliament building.

“This is a terrible crime on the heart and soul of this nation,” said Rita Daly, a 56-year-old civil servant, holding a picture of an aborted foetus. “This is the intentional killing of our children, our flesh and blood.”

Abortion rights opponents were particularly upset by the bill’s inclusion of the risk of suicide as a possible threat to the mother’s life.

The two-decade debate over how Ireland should deal with a Supreme Court ruling that abortion be permitted when a woman’s life is in danger was reopened last year after the death of a woman who was denied an abortion of her dying foetus.

The Supreme Court ruling in 1992 resulted from a challenge by a 14-year-old rape victim to a constitutional amendment nine years earlier that aimed to ban abortion in all instances.

Divisions in ruling party

In a sign of how contentious the abortion issue is, five of 76 members of parliament from Kenny’s conservative Fine Gael party voted against the bill. The five have been expelled from its parliamentary grouping.

Midway through his five-year term, Kenny has lost more Fine Gael deputies to the abortion debate than to economic austerity measures, even as his coalition made deep cuts under an 85 billion euro ($109 billion) EU/IMF bailout. He lost one party deputy over austerity.

The refusal to vote for the bill by longtime Kenny ally Lucinda Creighton, once tipped as a possible leader of the party, ends her role as Europe minister.

“When it comes to something that is essentially a matter of life and death, I think it is not really possible to compromise,” Creighton said in televised comments.

In the weeks before the vote, Kenny said he had been sent plastic foetuses and letters written in blood, and his private residence was picketed by protesters wearing skeleton masks.

He has also faced a concerted campaign by Ireland’s once- powerful Roman Catholic Church, which urged parishioners to pressure their local members of parliament to vote against the bill. Some church leaders said that lawmakers’ support of abortion could be grounds for excommunication.

Rocked by a series of child abuse scandals, the Church has seen its public influence wane since the 1980s, and a younger, secular generation wants to end the practice of Irish women travelling to nearby Britain to terminate their pregnancies.

Supporters of more liberal abortion laws in Ireland had mixed feelings about the bill’s passage.

“Under the current law, I face life in prison. Under the new law, I face 14 years,” said Suzanne Lee, a 23-year-old student who said she took an abortion pill last year.

Russia slams West’s propaganda on Syria chemical arms
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Russia’s U.N. envoy on Thursday sharply criticized what he described as Western nations’ “small propaganda storm in a glass of water” regarding allegations that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against its own people.

Ambassador Vitaly Churkin on Tuesday presented U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon a Russian analysis that Churkin said showed how a projectile containing sarin that hit Khan al-Assal in the northern Aleppo province on March 19, killing 26 civilians and military personnel, was fired by rebels.

That report came after Syria allowed Russian experts to visit the site and take environmental samples for analysis. Russia, along with Iran, is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s closest ally and chief arms supplier.

The United States, France and Britain, which have informed Ban about at least nine more alleged chemical weapons attacks by the government, cast doubt on the Russian analysis and repeated their previous calls for a U.N. chemical investigation team to have unfettered access in Syria, not just Khan al-Assal.

Churkin suggested that the three Western nations were making accusations that are not worth taking seriously.

“We need to be looking to credible allegations,” he told reporters, adding that the insistence on looking into other incidents besides Khan al-Assal was a “small propaganda storm in a glass of water.”

“Unfortunately I think what our Western colleagues have been doing is trying to produce the maximum number of allegations with the minimum of credibility in an effort … to create maximum problems for arrangin

— 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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Opinion

Buddhists call for boycott of Hilton & Waldorf Astoria Hotels with the opening of Siddhartha Lounge

The Thaiger

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Buddhists call for boycott of Hilton & Waldorf Astoria Hotels with the opening of Siddhartha Lounge | The Thaiger

OPINION: The Buddhist Times

Since its creation in 1996, Buddha-Bar Paris has been using the name and image of Buddha in it’s Bars and Hotels throughout the world. Typically the franchises use large statues of Buddha in their Bars and around dance floors and in restaurants similar to a Buddhist temple.

What makes the use of Buddha’s image in these bars most insulting to Buddhists around the world is that Buddhism does not support the consumption of alcohol. So to use the Buddha’s image as decoration to promote the consumption and sale of alcohol and as a prop on dance floors and in restaurants is especially disrespectful and hurtful to Buddhists.

Now comes a further insult with the Buddha-Bar franchise opening the Siddhartha Lounge at Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah. (Siddhartha Gautama being the full name of Buddha).

According to the Knowing Buddha Organisation in Thailand what the Buddha-Bar franchise is doing is not only disrespectful but it is immoral. The foundation points out that “Respect is Common Sense”.

Buddhists feel hurt by the misuse of the name and image of their father, as people of other faiths would be if the image of Christ or Mohammad were used to promote bars and nightclubs.

The Buddha–Bar, restaurant, and hotel franchise created by French-Romanian restaurateur Raymond Vișan and DJ and interior designer Claude Challe, with its original location having opened in Paris, France in 1996.

Raymond Vișan, according to Wikipedia, had the idea of establishing the chain of restaurants and bars which came from his fascination with the Orient. However at the age of 60 Visan suddenly died of terminal cancer. The franchise was continued by co-founder Claude Challe and Vișan’s wife Tarja, who took over the reins of the Buddha Bar franchise upon Vișan death.

Critics of the Vișan’s and Claude Challe say that these self described artists and creators have created nothing but bad Karma and Sin for themselves. They suggest that Buddha-Bar franchise is a form of “grotesque Plagiarism ” which has merely hi-jacked a 2500 year old religion, using the name and image of Buddha, who imparts peace, compassion and loving kindness, for the purpose of selling alcohol and making money. As any case of plagiarism it is expected that Buddha-Bar and Waldorf Astoria will soon find them selves in the courts say Buddhims advocats.

Buddhist around the world are calling the Boycotting of Waldorf Astoria Hotels Hilton Hotels, Buddha-Bars and the music of Claude Challe, demanding that they stop using the image of Buddha and instead creat their own brand.

The views expressed in this editorial do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of The Thaiger or its staff

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Hong Kong

1000s flock to Hong Kong’s Chater Garden for pro-democracy rally

May Taylor

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1000s flock to Hong Kong’s Chater Garden for pro-democracy rally | The Thaiger

PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Last night, Chater Garden, located near government headquarters in the Central district of Hong Kong, was the scene of the city’s first approved rally since the face mask ban came into being about 10 days ago. So far, the face mask ban has been largely ineffectual.

A day after an explosive device was detonated during protests, tens of thousands of demonstrators assembled in the park. They were calling on Washington to approve proposed US legislation that could see some Chinese officials face sanctions.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act aims to review the territory’s special trading status and sanction those responsible for undermining the rights of Hong Kong citizens. It passed through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee late last month.

The Chinese Government has responded angrily, accusing the US of “interfering in China’s internal affairs” with the aim of harming its interests, and says the law will only serve to worsen the situation in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong has been the scene of often violent pro-democracy protests for over four months now, as its citizens call for greater democracy and less interference from Beijing.

SOURCE: The Nation

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World

Nigerian astronaut needs $3 million to get home

The Thaiger

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Nigerian astronaut needs $3 million to get home | The Thaiger

PHOTO: Lost In Space? Or lost in reality? Maybe someone will fall for it – Lost in Space’s Jupiter 2

The Nigerians have somewhat of a reputation for scams and scammers. Who hasn’t received an email offering loads of cash in return for your bank account and a moderate deposit? But this letter takes the famous Nigerian Scam to another level. Or perhaps it’s true (we don’t think so…)?

Subject: Nigerian Astronaut Wants To Come Home
Dr. Bakare Tunde – Astronautics Project Manager
National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA)
Plot 555, Misau Street, PMB 437
Garki, Abuja, FCT NIGERIA

Dear Mr. Sir,

REQUEST FOR ASSISTANCE-STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL

I am Dr. Bakare Tunde, the cousin of Nigerian Astronaut, Air Force Major Abacha Tunde. He was the first African in space when he made a secret flight to the Salyut 6 space station in 1979. He was on a later Soviet spaceflight, Soyuz T-16Z to the secret Soviet military space station Salyut 8T in 1989. He was stranded there in 1990 when the Soviet Union was dissolved. His other Soviet crew members returned to earth on the Soyuz T-16Z, but his place was taken up by return cargo. There have been occasional Progrez supply flights to keep him going since that time. He is in good humor, but wants to come home.

In the 14 years since he has been on the station, he has accumulated flight pay and interest amounting to almost $ 15,000,000 American Dollars. This is held in a trust at the Lagos National Savings and Trust Association. If we can obtain access to this money, we can place a down payment with the Russian Space Authorities for a Soyuz return flight to bring him back to Earth. I am told this will cost $ 3,000,000 American Dollars. In order to access the his trust fund we need your assistance.

Consequently, my colleagues and I are willing to transfer the total amount to your account or subsequent disbursement, since we as civil servants are prohibited by the Code of Conduct Bureau (Civil Service Laws) from opening and/ or operating foreign accounts in our names.

Needless to say, the trust reposed on you at this juncture is enormous. In return, we have agreed to offer you 20 percent of the transferred sum, while 10 percent shall be set aside for incidental expenses (internal and external) between the parties in the course of the transaction. You will be mandated to remit the balance 70 percent to other accounts in due course.

Kindly expedite action as we are behind schedule to enable us include downpayment in this financial quarter.

Please acknowledge the receipt of this message via my direct number 234 (0) 9-234-XXXX only.

Yours Sincerely, Dr. Bakare Tunde
Astronautics Project Manager
XXXX@nasrda.gov.ng

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