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Phuket Gazette World News: Russian Winter Games open amid security scares, arrests

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Phuket Gazette World News: Russian Winter Games open amid security scares, arrests | The Thaiger
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PHUKET MEDIA WATCH
– World news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Russian Winter Games open amid security scares, arrests
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Russia’s Winter Olympics got underway on Friday with a grandiose opening ceremony watched by President Vladimir Putin, who will be keen to calm fears of militant attacks and move on from a row over gay rights that has marred the build-up to the Games.

Putin has staked his reputation on hosting a safe and successful Olympics in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi, where a colourful show before 40,000 spectators at the gleaming new Fisht Stadium signalled the start of full sporting competition.

“I declare the 22nd Winter Olympic Games open,” said Putin, launching an event he has personally overseen and expects will burnish Russia’s, and his own, image on the world stage.

In an embarrassing technical glitch, one of the five Olympic rings suspended high above the stage failed to unfurl, meaning that the giant structure could not be illuminated by fireworks as planned.

The show’s creative director, television executive Konstantin Ernst, played down its significance.

“No normal person would get distracted by one snowflake that did not open from the story that is being told over two and half hours,” he told reporters.

The show went on, blending cartoon-style inflatable domes, ballroom dancing amid towering imperial columns, and giant avant-garde shapes hovering above symbols of revolution and upheaval in a spectacular sweep through Russian history.

Fireworks filled the sky above the Olympic Park surrounding the arena in a rousing finale to a show that drew heavily on Russia’s rich heritage of classical music, literature and dance.

As the ceremony unfolded, a security scare aboard a passenger plane flying from Ukraine to Turkey underlined concerns that the Games could be targeted.

Turkey scrambled an F-16 fighter jet to accompany the Pegasus Airlines Boeing 737-800 plane with 110 passengers on board to Istanbul after a Ukrainian man made a bomb threat and demanded to go to Sochi.

Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu told reporters after the operation to detain him that the suspect was a 45-year-old Ukrainian who had a small bag with electronic goods but no bomb.

Ring of steel

The incident came after the U.S. Transportation Security Administration temporarily banned carry-on liquids, aerosols, gels and powders on flights between Russia and the United States.

Some 37,000 security personnel are on high alert in Sochi over threats by Islamist militant groups based in the nearby north Caucasus region to attack the February 7-23 Games, the most expensive ever staged at an estimated cost of US$50 billion (1.64 trilllion baht).

Separatist guerrillas seeking an independent Islamic state in Chechnya and neighbouring regions of southern Russia have vowed to disrupt the Olympics, which they say are taking place on land seized from Caucasus tribes in the 19th century.

Despite a “ring of steel” around venues, Russian forces fear a woman suspected of planning a suicide bombing may have slipped through.

Security analysts believe that an attack is in fact more likely elsewhere in Russia to humiliate Putin, who launched a war to crush a Chechen rebellion in 1999.

Twin suicide bombings killed at least 34 people in December in Volgograd, 400 miles (700 km) northeast of Sochi.

Gay propaganda row, Twitter blushes?

Putin was joined at the ceremony by leaders from China, Japan and about 40 other countries in a show of support despite international anger over Russia’s “gay propaganda” law passed last year, which critics say curtails the rights of homosexuals.

U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German President Joachim Gauck are not attending the Games, and the U.S. delegation includes openly gay representatives.

Putin says legislation banning the promotion of gay propaganda among minors is designed to protect young people, and has stressed that homosexuals would not face discrimination at the Olympics.

In a speech at the opening ceremony, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach called for an inclusive Games.

“Yes, it is possible – even as competitors – to live together under one roof in harmony, with tolerance and without any form of discrimination for whatever reason,” he said beneath a fluttering Russian flag.

As he spoke, gay rights activists said Russian police had detained people who tried to protest on Moscow’s Red Square and in St Petersburg.

Police did not immediately comment on reports by the activists, who said 10 demonstrators were detained in Moscow and four in Russia’s second city.

In St Petersburg, the protesters were held after unfurling a banner declaring “Discrimination is incompatible with the Olympic Movement”, gay rights group All Out said.

Google placed a rainbow version of its logo on its search page featuring the six colours on the gay pride flag – red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple.

The page also includes a quote from the Olympic charter underlining the right to practise sport without discrimination.

Google Inc. declined to comment.

Some Western media questioned the choice of Russia’s triple Olympic champion figure-skater and pro-Putin lawmaker Irina Rodnina to light the Olympic flame at the end of the ceremony, after a tweet she posted last year sparked a racism row.

She posted a picture of Obama which was photoshopped to add a banana in the foreground, an image which angered many including the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, who called it “outrageous behaviour”.

Competition starts in earnest

Organisers have defended the costs of staging the Sochi Games amid concerns from Olympic officials that the huge price tag could put potential bidders off in future.

They said much of the infrastructure built for 2014 was designed to be used long after the Games finished, and the plan was to turn Sochi into a year-round resort, international sports centre and amusement park.

Despite grumblings about accommodation that was not ready in many cases, the mood among competitors and officials after a handful of early qualifying events in Sochi and at the mountain base 40 km (25 miles) to the northeast was upbeat.

“Conditions offered to the athletes are absolutely outstanding,” said French Olympic Committee President Denis Masseglia on a clear, crisp day.

Saturday is the first full day of sporting action, with five gold medals to be decided.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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World

The World’s 50 Best Foods… Thai massaman curry tops the list

Maya Taylor

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The World’s 50 Best Foods… Thai massaman curry tops the list | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Young Sok Yun on Flickr

The humble Thai massaman curry has topped a list of the World’s 50 Best Foods, compiled by the CNN Travel team. Thailand’s smooth coconut milk and potato-based curry (add meat, tofu or vegetables of your choice) comes in at Number 1, with 2 other popular Thai dishes also making it into the World’s Best food list.

The hot and spicy shrimp/prawn soup, Tom Yum Goong, comes in at Number 8, with papaya salad, aka somtam, in 46th place (mai phet please!) Tell us your favourite Thai dish, and why, in the comments section (below).

CNN Travel says its staff conducted extensive research on global cuisine to find the 50 best dishes ever created. Nice work if you can get it…

Italian pizza, Mexican chocolate, Japanese sushi, Chinese Peking duck, Penang Assam laksa, Malaysia and German Hamburger also top the delicious list.

Here’s what the writers had to say about the 3 Thai dishes that made the top taste grade…

First Place, Massaman curryEmphatically the king of curries, and perhaps the king of all foods. Spicy, coconutty, sweet and savoury. Even the packet sauce you buy from the supermarket can make the most delinquent of cooks look like a Michelin potential. Thankfully, someone invented rice, with which diners can mop up the last drizzles of curry sauce. “The Land of Smiles” isn’t just a marketing catch-line. It’s a result of being born in a land where the world’s most delicious food is sold on nearly every street corner.

Eighth Place, Tom Yum Kung

This best food Thai masterpiece teems with shrimp, mushrooms, tomatoes, lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime leaves. Usually loaded with coconut milk and cream, the hearty soup unifies a host of favourite Thai tastes: sour, salty, spicy and sweet. Best of all is the price: cheap.

The World’s 50 Best Foods... Thai massaman curry tops the list | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: Richard Lee on Flickr

46th Place, Som Tam/Papaya salad

To prepare Thailand’s most famous salad, pound garlic and chilies with a mortar and pestle. Toss in tamarind juice, fish sauce, peanuts, dried shrimp, tomatoes, lime juice, sugar cane paste, string beans and a handful of grated green papaya. Grab a side of sticky rice. Variations include those made with crab (som tam pu) and fermented fish sauce (som tam pla ra), but none matches the flavour and simple beauty of the original.

The World’s 50 Best Foods... Thai massaman curry tops the list | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: www.needpix.com

SOURCE: Thai Residents | CNN Travel

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine trial volunteer dies

Caitlin Ashworth

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AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine trial volunteer dies | The Thaiger

A volunteer for a Covid-19 vaccine clinical trial in Brazil has died. But he never actually received the experimental vaccine, although he was involved in the trial groups. He did, however, die of Covid-19.

But trials on the vaccine, being developed by Oxford University and the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, are set to continue. The university says “there have been no concerns about safety of the clinical trial.” The vaccine is also planned to be produced in Thailand and be available to the Thai population by the first half of 2021.

The 28 year old volunteer from Rio de Janeiro died from Covid-19 complications, according to CNN Brasil. He was apparently never injected with the experimental vaccine. If the volunteer had been given the Covid-19 vaccine and died, the trial would have been suspended, a source told Reuters, adding that the volunteer may have been part of the control group.

The Federal University of Sao Paulo is helping to coordinate the trials in Brazil and has also recommended the trials continue. So far, 8,000 volunteers have been injected with the first dose of the vaccine and some have already been jabbed a second time, a university spokesperson said.

“Everything is proceeding as expected, without any record of serious vaccine-related complications involving any of the participating volunteers.”

Thailand is set to be the Southeast Asia production site for the new vaccine. If the AstraZeneca trials are successful, the vaccine will be available to the Thai population by the first half of 2021. For Thailand, the vaccine is seen as a lifeline to save the country’s struggling economy, allowing borders to safely reopen and revive the tourism industry.

The company Siam Bioscience will manufacture the vaccine in Thailand and provide injections for the Thai populations as well as the neighbouring countries Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos.

SOURCE: Thai PBS

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World

China ban on inbound, outbound tour groups to continue

Maya Taylor

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China ban on inbound, outbound tour groups to continue | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Bicanski on Pixnio

The Chinese government is to keep the current ban on inbound and outbound tour groups, amid fears that the winter months could bring a resurgence of Covid-19. The Bangkok Post reports that the country’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism has confirmed on its website that the ban remains in place. After several months with very low case numbers, officials are wary of the virus surging back this winter.

The ban on outbound tours is severely impacting places like Thailand, where former tourist hotspots are already suffering devastating economic consequences from the closure of the country’s borders in late March. Earlier this week, Thailand welcomed its first group of Chinese tourists in 7 months, but the Kingdom has a long way to go to get back to the 10.99 million Chinese who visited last year – if it ever does.

As the Covid-19 virus made itself known at the start of 2020, China put a stop to both domestic and outbound tours in January. Since July, domestic tours have started up again as a result of a significant reduction in Covid-19 cases.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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