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Phuket Gazette World News: Syria rebels breach Homs; Pope vote begins; PNG quake; China land protests; Khmer war crimes

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Phuket Gazette World News: Syria rebels breach Homs; Pope vote begins; PNG quake; China land protests; Khmer war crimes | The Thaiger
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PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

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

Syrian rebels pierce Assad’s siege lines in Homs – opposition
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET:Syrian rebels broke through government lines to ease a siege of their positions in the strategic central city of Homs yesterday despite coming under fierce aerial bombardment, opposition campaigners said.

The communally mixed city of Sunni Muslims and Alawites, the minority sect that has dominated Syria since the 1960s, has emerged as a major battleground in the two-year-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. The bloodshed has claimed about 70,000 lives so far, according to the United Nations.

Homs, 140km north of Damascus in central Syria, lies on a vital road juncture linking army bases on the Mediterranean coast, home to a large proportion of Assad’s Alawites, and government forces in the capital Damascus.

In a counter-offensive, Sunni rebels punched their way through government lines in the north and west to loosen a months-long army siege on their strongholds in the centre of the Syria’s third biggest city, opposition sources said.

Insurgents based in the provinces of Hama and Idlib advanced on Homs over the weekend from the north while brigades from rural Homs attacked government positions in its Baba Amro district.

This area was overrun by the army after a long siege a year ago and subsequently visited by Assad.

The Syrian state news agency said “a unit of our brave army engaged with an armed terrorist group that had tried to infiltrate Baba Amro … and killed and wounded several of its members.”

Abu Imad, an opposition activist, said the sound of aerial bombardment on Baba Amro in western Homs shook the city.

“This situation is muddled in the whole of Homs, but what is certain is that the regime is busy trying to repel rebel brigades who have broken into Baba Amro from its rural surroundings,” he said.

Both sides have taken heavy casualties since the army went on the offensive 10 days ago to take the central districts of Khalidya, al-Qusour and Old Homs, where rebel brigades have been dug in for months, according to opposition military sources.

Rebels repulsed several army attempts to take Khalidya with infantry in the last 10 days and dozens from both sides have been killed, the sources said.

Assad, fighting to maintain his family’s four-decade-old grip on Syria, appears to be focusing his military campaign on holding the main cities, along a highway axis running north of Homs to Hama and Aleppo and south to Damascus and Deraa, according to opposition sources.

In a meeting with parliamentarians from Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party in Damascus on Thursday, Assad said he could not control some parts of Syria, accusing Turkey’s government of backing what he described as terrorists.

“We can’t control all parts of Syria. We are focused on big cities. There are terrorist attacks in the countryside,” Assad said, according to a report the party published on Sunday.

Nader al-Husseini, an activist from Baba Amro, said several roadblocks in the district had fallen to rebel fighters and dozens of loyalist troops and militia had fled to the nearby districts of Jobar and Inshaat.

“For the regime to take hits in Baba Amro is damaging to its morale, especially since Assad visited Baba Amro and was filmed there, supposedly sealing the regime’s triumph,” Husseini said.

In the east of Syria, a desert region that extends to Iraq’s Sunni heartland, government jets bombarded the city of Raqqa, which fell to the opposition last week, killing five people. But some refugees who had fled to nearby rural and desert areas have begun returning to the city, activists said.

The German weekly Spiegel, quoting what it called participants and organisers, reported on Sunday that Americans, some in uniforms, were training rebel fighters in Jordan.

Britain’s Guardian newspaper had a similar report, quoting Jordanian security services, and said British and French trainers were part of a U.S.-led effort meant to strengthen secular elements over Islamist hardliners in the rebel ranks.

U.S., British and French officials declined comment.

The United States has said it would provide medical supplies and food directly to opposition fighters but has ruled out sending arms for fear they may find their way to Islamist radicals who might then use them against Western targets.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are widely believed to be providing weapons to the insurgents, and Arab League ministers decided last Wednesday to let member nations arm them.

Large tracts of eastern Syria, which accounts for all of the major Arab state’s oil production and most of its grain output, have been captured by insurgent forces in recent weeks.

But the Syrian National Coalition, an umbrella group of the political opposition, postponed a meeting to form a provisional government – the latest setback to opposition efforts to create an administration to take over if Assad is ousted.

The coalition meeting to elect a provisional prime minister, which was due to be held tomorrow after being put off once already, has been rescheduled for March 20, but it was uncertain it would be held even then, coalition sources said.

Meanwhile, the number of refugees fleeing Syria could triple by the end of the year from one million now, according to a new United Nations estimate.

“Everything depends on whether or not we will have a political solution but we need to be prepared for a very strong increase of the present numbers,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told reporters in Ankara.

Opposition campaigners said at least 20 bodies of young men captured and shot by security forces were found yesterday in a small waterway running through the contested city of Aleppo.

It was the largest number of bodies lifted in a single day from what became known as “the river of martyrs”, after 65 bodies turned up in late January. An average of several bodies a day have been appearing in the river since, several activists in the northern city, which is near Turkey, told Reuters.

Syrian authorities have banned most independent media from the country, making verification of reported events difficult.

Venezuela opposition leader joins presidential race
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles said yesterday he will challenge the late Hugo Chavez’s preferred successor for the presidency next month, setting the stage for a bitter campaign.

Capriles, a 40-year-old state governor, will face election favourite and acting President Nicolas Maduro. The pair have until close of busines today to register their candidacies for the April 14 vote.

The election will decide whether Chavez’s self-styled socialist and nationalist revolution will live on in the country with the world’s largest proven oil reserves.

“I am going to fight,” Capriles said at a news conference. “Nicolas, I am not going to give you a free pass. You will have to beat me with votes.”

Former vice president Maduro, 50, a hulking one-time bus driver and union leader turned politician who echoes Chavez’s anti-imperialist rhetoric, is expected to win the election comfortably, according to two recent polls.

Maduro pushed for a snap election to cash in on a wave of empathy triggered by Chavez’

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Coronavirus spreads north and south in China – 139 new cases reported

The Thaiger

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Coronavirus spreads north and south in China – 139 new cases reported | The Thaiger
PHOTO: New cases reported over the weekend are concerning health offficials - BBC.com

Another 139 new cases of a flu-like disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus in China has shocked health officials. There’s also been a third confirmed death reported today. Worse, the outbreak has now spread beyond Wuhan in central China where the virus was first identified. There have been cases reported in Beijing, a province next door to Shanghai and Shenzhen in southern China.

Health authorities in Beijing have now confirmed two cases of the new coronavirus today, while Guangdong authorities in southern China reported one new case in Shenzhen as well. The Shenzhen case is the first confirmation that the virus has spread domestically beyond Wuhan.

The Wuhan Health Commission announced today that 136 new patients had been diagnosed over the weekend – 1 person died from the virus, 2 remain in critical condition, 33 are in serious condition. All three patients that have died are believed to have visited Wuhan in the last month or so.

The new cases have brought the total number of people diagnosed with the virus in China to 201. That’s a big jump over numbers reported over the weekend.

Meanwhile, health authorities in Shenzhen, bordering Hong Kong, say they are monitoring eight patient. All eight have been quarantined for treatment. In coastal Zhejiang province, bordering Shanghai, authorities have now reported five new suspected cases who have been confirmed to have visited Wuhan. Last week, three cases were detected outside China — two in Thailand and one in Japan. All cases have been linked to Wuhan. On Monday, South Korea also confirmed its first case of the virus.

The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market at the centre of the pneumonia outbreak in he city of tWuhan has been closed for disinfection since January 1.

Meanwhile, Thai officials are stepping up screening efforts with many flights flying in from Wuhan over the next few weeks for the Chinese New Year holidays. Health officials say they’re confident that their screening efforts will detect any infected passengers getting off flights at Thai airports.

SOURCE: CNN

Coronavirus spreads north and south in China - 139 new cases reported | News by The Thaiger

GRAPHIC: Bangkok Post

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More coronavirus cases detected in China, global alert for Chinese New Year

The Thaiger

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More coronavirus cases detected in China, global alert for Chinese New Year | The Thaiger
PHOTO: The Conversation

Chinese medical officials have now reported four more cases of the viral pneumonia strain caused by a new coronavirus. The discoveries are causing rising concern that the disease is not fully understand and could spread during the upcoming Chinese New Year holidays.

The new virus, originating in the Chinese city of Wuhan – the apparent epicentre of the outbreak – is believed to belong in the same class of coronaviruses that includes the deadly SARS virus (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed nearly 800 people around the world in 2002/03. That outbreak also started in China.

At this stage all signs are that the virus isn’t as lethal as SARS, but there is still little known about the coronavirus’ origins and how it is transmitted. But it has been established at this stage that it is not spread human to human.

Both Thailand and Japan have confirmed new cases of the virus. In Thailand the patient was detected when arriving on a flight from Wuhan. And Japan’s health ministry reported that a man who had visited the central Chinese city of Wuhan was hospitalised on January 10, four days after his return to Japan.

Both patients have fully recovered.

The new cases detected in China, and the cases detected overseas, are stoking global concerns as many of the 1.4 billion Chinese will head overseas during the Chinese New Year holidays that begin next week and run through to early February.

The Wuhan Health Commission reports that the the four new cases are now in stable condition. 45 cases have been reported in the city as of last Thursday. A second patient died on Wednesday this week. Nearly 50 people are now known to have been infected globally, but all of them either lived in Wuhan or have travelled to the city.

The London Imperial College’s MRC Center for Global Infectious Disease Analysis speculates that there are probably “substantially more cases” of the new coronavirus than currently declared by Wuhan authorities. Their modelling estimates that there would be 1,723 cases showing onset of related symptoms by the second week in January.

Meanwhile US authorities say they are now screening at three airports to detect passengers arriving via direct or connecting flights from Wuhan. And in Asia, authorities in Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand are stepping up monitoring of travellers from Wuhan at airports.

SOURCE: Reuters | Science Alert

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Thailand

Dutchman jailed for 100 years in Thailand for money laundering is released

Greeley Pulitzer

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Dutchman jailed for 100 years in Thailand for money laundering is released | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Johan van Laarhoven walks free after serving six years of a 100 year sentence in Thai prison - The Chiang Rai Times

A Dutch citizen who was jailed for 100 years in Thailand, is now on his way home after years of campaigning for his release. His sentence was reduced to 75 years on appeal and later to 50 years by the Supreme court. Johan van Laarhoven, who ran several cannabis “coffee shops” in Holland, was jailed in Thailand for money laundering, along with his Thai wife, though the offences took place in The Netherlands.

Thai authorities began investigating Van Laarhoven in 2014 after a letter from a Dutch public prosecutor’s office, informing them that he had earned his money selling marijuana and requesting their help. Last year, MPs called on the government to to extradite Van Laarhoven and his wife back to Netherlands. The Dutch justice minister even met with PM Prayut Chan-o-cha and the Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin to discuss the case.

Even though cannabis is legal in the Netherlands, Dutch officials bungled a tax query to Thai authorities regarding the sale of the Dutchman’s cannabis cafe chain. This led to a criminal investigation and his televised arrest in Thailand.

Thai authorities seized the Dutchman’s assets and he was sentenced to 100 years in prison. His young Thai wife, Mingkwan, was jailed for 13 years as an accomplice. The Netherlands has an extradition treaty with Thailand, but it can only be implemented after a case has been ruled “definitive.” Van Laarhoven’s sentence was upheld late last year, clearing the way for a diplomatic solution. It’s unclear whether his wife will be allowed to join him in the Netherlands.

Once back, Van Laarhoven will spend two years in a Dutch jail to complete his sentence, and also face criminal investigation for money laundering. The investigation will focus on tax fraud, membership in a criminal organisation and laundering €20m (675 million baht) according to a Dutch public prosecutor.

SOURCE: The Chiang Rai Times | Dutchnews.nl

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