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Phuket Gazette World News: Syria fighting intensifies; UK, France clear to send arms; US McCain meets rebels; Turkey forgers busted; Ireland defends Apple tax

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Phuket Gazette World News: Syria fighting intensifies; UK, France clear to send arms; US McCain meets rebels; Turkey forgers busted; Ireland defends Apple tax | The Thaiger

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

Syria fighting rages, more chemical attacks reported
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Heavy fighting raged around the strategic Syrian border town of Qusair and the capital Damascus on Monday and further reports surfaced of chemical weapons attacks by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces on rebel areas.

The Syrian military pounded eastern suburbs of Damascus with air strikes and artillery and loud explosions echoed around al-Nabak, 80 km (50 miles) north of the capital, where fighting has cut the highway running north to the central city of Homs, the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group said.

Syrian government offensives in recent weeks are widely seen as a campaign to strengthen Assad’s negotiating position before a proposed international peace conference sponsored by the United States and Russia.

Opposition activists said Syrian troops backed by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters were pressing a sustained assault on Qusair, a town long used by insurgents as a way station for arms and other supplies from Lebanon.

For Assad, Qusair is a crucial link between Damascus and loyalist strongholds on the Mediterranean coast. Recapturing the town, in central Homs province, could also sever connections between rebel-held areas in the north and south of Syria.

Hezbollah’s deepening involvement in Qusair has raised fears of renewed civil war in neighbouring Lebanon, where two rockets hit the Shi’ite Muslim movement’s stronghold in south Beirut on Sunday and one was fired from south Lebanon towards Israel.

The rockets struck hours after Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah promised that his anti-Israel guerrillas, fighting alongside Assad’s forces, would win whatever the cost.

A Lebanese security source said another 107mm rocket, which did not go off, had been aimed at Beirut airport. The launch sites were near Aitat, in the hills just south of the capital.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced “deep concern” overnight at Hezbollah’s admitted combat role and the risk that the Syrian conflict will spill into Lebanon and other neighbouring states.

Ban urged all concerned “immediately to cease supporting the violence inside Syria and instead to use their influence to promote a political solution to Syria’s tragedy”.

The diplomacy so far appears only to have intensified the violence, especially around Qusair and Damascus.

In Harasta, an eastern Damascus suburb largely under rebel control, dozens of people were suffering the effects of an apparent overnight chemical attack, according to opposition sources. Video showed victims lying on the floor of a large room, breathing from oxygen masks.

The sides in the conflict, now in its third year, have accused each other of using chemical weapons. France’s Le Monde newspaper published first-hand accounts on Monday of apparent chemical attacks by Assad’s forces in April.

The newspaper said one of its photographers had suffered blurred vision and respiratory difficulties for four days after an attack on April 13 on the Jobar front, in central Damascus.

Another video from Harasta overnight showed at least two fighters being put into a van, their eyes watering and struggling to breathe while medics put tubes into their throats.

It was not possible to verify the videos independently, given the difficulties of media access in Syria.

A doctor interviewed in another video said the alleged chemical attack in Harasta was revenge for a rebel raid on nearby military checkpoints. He complained of a severe shortage in staff and medical supplies to treat “dozens of wounded”.

Syria, which is not a member of the anti-chemical weapons convention, is believed to have one of the world’s last remaining stockpiles of undeclared chemical arms.

As Washington and Moscow seek to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table, European Union foreign ministers gathered in Brussels to discuss calls from Britain and France to ease an EU embargo on arming Syrian rebels.

All EU sanctions on Syria could collapse unless the 27-nation bloc agrees on the fate of the arms embargo before it expires on June 1, but several EU members oppose any change.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague signalled that Britain was prepared to see EU sanctions fall apart rather than retreat from his demand to give more support to rebels. If the EU could not agree, then “each country will have to ensure it has its own sanctions,” Hague declared.

Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, whose country provides U.N. observers posted between Syrian and Israeli forces on the Golan Heights, opposed any arming of rebels, saying the EU should remain a “peace community”.

The U.S.-Russian initiative provides the first slim hope in almost a year for a diplomatic end to a conflict that has cost more than 80,000 lives and caused a refugee exodus that the U.N. refugee agency expects to top 3.5 million by the end of 2013.

China, which along with Russia, has three times blocked U.N. Security Council action on Syria, said on Monday it would join the proposed peace conference. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said it would make efforts with all concerned to “push for an early, just, peaceful and appropriate settlement of the Syrian issue”.

Damascus has indicated it will take part in the talks, but the fractured opposition, which has previously required Assad’s exit to be guaranteed before any negotiations, has yet to lay out its position and remains mired in internal quarrels.

The opposition crisis deepened on Monday when liberals were offered only token representation, undermining international efforts to lend the Islamist-dominated alliance greater support.

To the dismay of envoys of Western and Arab nations monitoring four days of opposition talks in Istanbul, the 60-member Syrian National Coalition thwarted a deal to admit a liberal bloc headed by opposition campaigner Michel Kilo.

The failure to broaden the coalition, in which a Qatari-backed bloc influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood is prominent, could sap Saudi support for the revolt.

The coalition’s Western backers had wanted more seats for liberals, an idea backed by Saudi Arabia, which had been uneasy about Qatar’s rising influence, coalition insiders said.

France again urged the Syrian opposition to restructure and to clarify its position on the Geneva talks. “We repeat our desire to see the leadership structure of this National Syrian Coalition broadened,” the French Foreign Ministry said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were due to meet in Paris on Monday to discuss the conference they want to hold in Geneva in June.

In Geneva, U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay appealed for international action to halt the killing and urged the U.N. Security Council to ensure war criminals in Syria faced justice.

“Confronted with the flagrant disregard of international law and human life on every side, I feel utter dismay,” she said, as she reeled off the latest atrocities reported to her office.

EU failure allows UK, France to arm Syrian rebels
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Britain and France are free to supply weapons to Syrian rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad from August, after attempts to renew an EU arms embargo on Syria failed on Monday.

After

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Chiang Rai

Italian busted in Australia smuggling heroin

Greeley Pulitzer

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Italian busted in Australia smuggling heroin | The Thaiger

An 49-year-old Italian has been charged with drug smuggling after arriving at Perth Airport from Chiang Mai. He allegedly had about 300 grams of heroin, worth about 135,000 Australian dollars, hidden inside his body.

After trace technology during a baggage examination showed positive for narcotics, Australian Border Force officers referred him to the Australian Federal Police for an internal exam.

The man was taken to hospital where 63 pellets of heroin were allegedly found in his stomach. X-Rays also revealed three more pellets of heroin had been internally inserted into his rectum.

Italian busted in Australia smuggling heroin | News by The Thaiger

Photo: Australian Border Force

He was charged with importing a controlled drug and faces 25 years in prison.

A spokeman for the Australian Border Forcesaid the ABF is fully aware of the lengths people are willing to go to bring drugs into Australia.

“They not only risk lengthy jail time, but are playing Russian roulette with their own lives and health,” he said.

“Smuggling drugs internally is an incredibly stupid endeavour. Furthermore there is a risk that stomach acid will eat through the wrapping of the heroin, consequently risking a fatal drug overdose,” according to federal police.

SOURCE: chiangraitimes.com

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World

Brexit latest – Five possible scenarios

The Thaiger

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Brexit latest – Five possible scenarios | The Thaiger

Britain’s three year Brexit saga, the UK’s most challenging and debilitating political debacle in decades, has taken another dramatic twist with the outcome still difficult to predict. In a landmark vote, MPs finally backed an EU divorce deal – only moments later rejecting British PM Boris Johnson’s rushed timetable to turn it into law ahead of the country’s scheduled October 31 departure date.

The decision makes that deadline almost impossible to meet, but it does not kill the deal – the first that has got a majority in parliament.

Here are some possible scenarios ahead…

A technical extension

Legislation passed last month stated that unless MPs backed a divorce deal by October 19, Johnson must write to EU leaders asking for Brexit to be postponed for three months to January 31, 2020. The PM reluctantly sent the letter last Saturday, and EU leaders are still considering their response.

European Council President Donald Tusk said yesterday, following the drama in Westminster, that he was now recommending they accept the request. Johnson had earlier told lawmakers who had just defied his bid to fast-track his deal through parliament that he would “pause” the ratification process while the EU decides on an extension.

Although he insisted Britain should still leave on October 31, he may have little choice but to accept a short “technical” delay to allow for a new parliamentary timetable to pass the legislation in the coming weeks.

More delays

Despite Johnson being adamant he will not delay Brexit for months, the EU may also offer Britain the option of a longer extension – which opposition MPs argue the premier would be compelled by law to accept. European leaders could claim a longer delay is necessary to give the country enough time to resolve the issue.

Legislation of this type would normally take months and must be approved again by the House of Commons as well as by the upper House of Lords. There is a real risk MPs could try to hijack its passage and attach various amendments, for example to make approval subject to negotiating a future customs union with the bloc or even to hold a new referendum.

A longer delay could also allow for a general election.

A crash and burn exit

The default legal position is that Britain leaves the EU on October 31 unless the other 27 member states agree to a delay.

Business and markets across Europe fear the shock of a sudden Brexit that even the government’s own assessment says would cause economic damage, raising the chances that the EU will offer an extension.

Despite EU leaders claiming they would never cause a no-deal Brexit, their decision to offer a delay must be unanimous and any one of the 27 member states could block such a move. In that highly unlikely scenario, Britain would crash out of the bloc at the end of next week.

Another general election

Johnson warned MPs ahead of the votes yesterday that he would pull his Brexit deal legislation and try to hold a general election if they rejected his timetable – although he did not repeat the threat afterwards.

Riding high in the polls, he has already unsuccessfully tried twice to get an early election to win back a majority in parliament, and seemed buoyed by having secured MPs’ initial approval for his new Brexit deal. But he needs the support of the main opposition Labour Party for an election to be called and it has so far resisted.

Labour says it would back an election when the threat of a “no deal” Brexit is off the table.

Another referendum

Labour says any deal should be subject to a new referendum, and has promised to call one if it takes office. Some MPs may try to force the issue during the passage of the Brexit deal legislation, although it is far from clear that they have the numbers to succeed.

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

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ASEAN

Human hair trade exploits ASEAN women

Greeley Pulitzer

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Human hair trade exploits ASEAN women | The Thaiger

Hair extensions have become an essential part of the multi-billion-dollar hair industry, with estimated annual sales of 250 million to over 1 billion USD. Based on a 2018 Research and Markets report, the global hair, wigs and extension market is expected to surpass 10 billion USD by 2023.

Raw human hair has significant commercial value: it’s a coveted commodity to be processed into hair extensions and wigs. According to a report by the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), the global value for human hair exports in 2017 was 126 million USD. Asia exported 72.4 million USD, accounting for 58 percent of the global trade.

In India, the Tirupati Balaji temple earns 10 percent of its income through auctioning hair donated by devotees, raking in a profit of 25 million to 40 million USD annually.

There are three categories for collected hair: Remy, non-Remy and virgin hair. Remy is usually obtained from temple donations and is of the highest grade. Non-Remy hair is a lower grade, collected from individuals, and is typically broken or short. Virgin hairhas never been chemically treated.

In Southeast Asia, long hair is esteemed as a mark of beauty with deep religious and social meaning, especially in Buddhist countries. While most brands opt to acquire hair from India where it’s donated for religious reasons, in Southeast Asia, traders target impoverished areas to buy hair from desperately poor people whose poverty makes them easy prey. Hair extensions in the US can cost 500 to 2000 USD, but the owner of the hair usually receives only a fraction of that. For example, Nguyen Thi Thuy of Vietnam says the highest she has ever been offered for her hair is 70,000 Vietnamese dong, or 3 USD. Pheng Sreyvy from Cambodia fared slightly better at 15 USD for her locks.

According to the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association, women don’t know how to bargain over the price of hair. “They decided to sell their hair because they are poor, and they don’t know where to sell their hair for international market price,” a spokeswoman said.

The high value of human hair has made hair-theft muggings a recurrent problem in some countries, and some companies have resorted to chemical processing or a mixture of human and goat hair.

Increased awareness of exploitation has prompted many companies to collect hair from more transparent and ethical sources. While the human hair trade has provided many communities with income and opportunities, practices that exploit and deprive women of opportunities continue.

SOURCE: theaseanpost.com

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