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Phuket Gazette World News: Muslims vanish as Buddhist attacks approach Myanmar’s biggest city

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Phuket Gazette World News: Muslims vanish as Buddhist attacks approach Myanmar’s biggest city | The Thaiger
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PHUKET MEDIA WATCH
– World news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Muslims vanish as Buddhist attacks approach Myanmar’s biggest city
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: The Muslims of Sit Kwin were always a small group who numbered no more than 100 of the village’s 2,000 people. But as sectarian violence led by Buddhist mobs spreads across central Myanmar, they and many other Muslims are disappearing.

Their homes, shops and mosques destroyed, some end up in refugee camps or hide in the homes of friends or relatives. Dozens have been killed.

“We don’t know where they are,” says Aung Ko Myint, 24, a taxi-driver in Sit Kwin, where Buddhists yesterday ransacked a store owned by one of the town’s last remaining Muslims. “He escaped this morning just before the mob got here.”

Since 42 people were killed in violence that erupted in Meikhtila town on March 20, unrest led by hardline Buddhists has spread to at least 10 other towns and villages in central Myanmar, with the latest incidents only a two-hour drive from the commercial capital, Yangon.

The crowds are fired up by anti-Muslim rhetoric, spread by telephone and social media networks such as Facebook, from monks preaching about a so-called “969 movement”.

The number is derived from Buddhism – the three numbers refer to various attributes of the Buddha, his teachings and the monkhood – but it has come to represent a radical form of anti-Islamic nationalism which urges Buddhists to boycott Muslim-run shops and services.

Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country, but about 5 percent of its 60 million people are Muslims. There are large Muslim communities in Yangon, Mandalay and towns across Myanmar’s heartland.

The unrest poses the biggest challenge to a reformist government that took office in 2011 after nearly half a century of military rule.

In a nationally televised speech on Thursday, President Thein Sein warned “political opportunists and religious extremists” against instigating further violence.

“I will not hesitate to use force as a last resort to protect the lives and safeguard the property of the general public,” he said.

Dusk-to-dawn curfews are in effect in many areas of Bago, the region where Sit Kwin lies, while four townships in central Myanmar are under a state of emergency imposed last week.

But the security forces are still battling against pockets of unrest, while state-run media reports 68 people have been arrested for unrest which made almost 13,000 people homeless.

Rumours

The trouble in Sit Kwin began four days ago, when people riding 30 motorbikes drove through town urging villagers to expel Muslim residents, said witnesses. They then trashed a mosque and a row of Muslim shops and houses.

“They came with anger that was born from rumours,” said one man who declined to be identified.

Further south, police in Letpadan have stepped up patrols in the farming village of 22,000 people about 160km from Yangon.

Three monks led a 30-strong group towards a mosque yesterday. Police dispersed the crowd, many of whom carried knives and staves, and briefly detained two people. They were later released at the request of township officials, police said.

“I won’t let it happen again,” said police commander Phone Myint. “The president yesterday gave the police authority to control the situation.”

The abbot who led the protest, Khamainda, said he took to the streets after hearing rumours passed by other monks by telephone, about violence between Buddhists and Muslims in other towns. He said he wanted revenge against Muslims for the destruction by the Taliban of Buddhist statues in Bamiyan province in Afghanistan in 2001.

“There is no problem with the way they live. But they are the minority and we are the majority. And when the minority insults our religion we get concerned,” he told Reuters. “We will come out again if we get a chance.”

Letpadan villagers fear the tension will explode. “I’m sure they will come back and destroy the mosque,” says Aung San Kyaw, 35, a Muslim. “We’ve never experienced anything like this.”

Across the street, Hla Tan, a 67-year-old Buddhist, shares the fear. “We have lived peacefully for years. Nothing can happen between us unless outsiders come. But if they come, I know we can’t stop them,” he said.

North of Sit Kwin is the farming town of Minhla, which endured about three hours of violence on both Wednesday and Thursday.

About 300 people, most from the nearby village of Ye Kyaw, gathered in the early afternoon on Wednesday. The crowd swelled to about 800 as townsfolk joined, a Minhla policeman told Reuters. They then destroyed three mosques and 17 shops and houses, he said.

No Buddhist monks were involved, said witnesses.

Very Nervous

The mob carried sticks, metal pipes and hammers, said Hla Soe, 60, a Buddhist who runs an electrical repair shop in Minhla. “No one could stop them,” he said.

About 200 soldiers and police eventually intervened to restore a fragile peace. “I’m very nervous that it will happen again,” said Hla Soe.

About 500 of Minhla’s township’s 100,000 people are Muslims, said the police officer, who estimated two-thirds of those Muslim had fled.

However, Tun Tun is staying. “I have no choice,” says the 26-year-old, whose tea shop was looted by Buddhists, one armed with a chainsaw.

He plans to rebuild his shop, whose daily revenue of 10,000 kyat (about 330 baht) supports an extended family of 12. On the wall of his ransacked kitchen is a portrait of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. He did not believe she could do anything to help.

Tun Tun traced the rising communal tension in Minhla to speeches given on February 26 and 27 by a celebrated monk visiting from Mon State, to the east of Yangon.

He spoke to a crowd of 2,000 about the “969 movement”, said Win Myint, 59, who runs a Buddhist community centre which hosted the monk.

After the speech, Muslims were jeered and fewer Buddhists frequented his tea shop, said Tun Tun. Stickers bearing the number 969 appeared on non-Muslim street stalls across Minhla.

President Thein Sein’s ambitious reform programme has won praise, but his government has also been criticised for failing to stem violence last year in Rakhine State in western Myanmar, where officials say 110 people were killed and 120,000 were left homeless, most of them Rohingya Muslims.

The U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar said on Thursday he had received reports of “state involvement” in the recent violence at Meikhtila.

Soldiers and police sometimes stood by “while atrocities have been committed before their very eyes, including by well-organised ultra-nationalist Buddhist mobs”, said the rapporteur, Tomas Ojea Quintana. “This may indicate direct involvement by some sections of the state or implicit collusion and support for such actions.”

Late yesterday, three monks were preparing to give another “969” speech in Ok Kan, a town 113km from Yangon.

— 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
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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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