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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 (Covid-19)

Chinese state-backed film released praising Wuhan

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Chinese state-backed film released praising Wuhan | The Thaiger

A new, state-backed film marking the anniversary of the Covid-19 Wuhan lockdown, is using propaganda to praise the central Chinese city. The documentary “Days and Nights in Wuhan” chronicles the suffering that the city’s 11 million residents endured during the 76 day lockdown. 30 filmmakers contributed to the film which included footage of medical staff and front-line workers.

The film joins other documentaries centered on the Wuhan lockdown, including one that was produced by an activist artist that led to him fleeing the country after being harrassed by China’s Communist Party. “Coronation” was rejected by festivals, theatres, and streaming services in which the creator attributes to fears over the offending government which tightly controls what films can be shown inside the nation and abroad.

The new film was directed by Cao Jinling and has already debuted in Wuhan but the audience was thin. The film is set to be released to other cities today. But it is not clear if the government will allow it to be shown overseas.

“We wanted to record the journey of battling against the COVID-19 epidemic via motion picture. Some of the details, including the intense care, anxious waiting, heartbreaking farewells and hopeful rebirths, might strike a chord with viewers.”

The lockdown imposed on January 23 of last year, was eventually extended to surrounding areas in Hubei province, seeing some 56 million people unable to leave their homes. Hospitals and morgues became overwhelmed at the height of the crisis as Wuhan accounted for most of China’s 4,635 death toll.

Meanwhile, China has finally gave permission for the World Health Organisation to send a team of international experts to begin investigating the virus’ origins. Experts mostly agree that the coronavirus emerged from a Wuhan food market where live wild animals that carry the virus were sold. But China’s government has all but refuted the claim by insinuating that the virus was possibly brought into the country by US soldiers.

Other conspiracy theories are abound, but the notion that the virus was not from Wuhan has done well with many residents, who maintain the virus came from somewhere else. Such beliefs by those residents have also propelled them to view themselves as victims.

SOURCE: Khaosod English

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

US President Biden jump starting Covid-19 strategy

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US President Biden jump starting Covid-19 strategy | The Thaiger

Newly inaugurated US President Joe Biden is jump starting his Covid-19strategy by signing more executive orders on his 2nd day in office. The orders include requiring Americans to wear masks for travelling in planes, ships, intercity buses and public transportation. The orders have fallen short of mandating the wearing of masks for everyone whilst in public spaces.

Such mask-wearing requirements have been applauded by the country’s airline unions. Travellers from abroad must also now produce a negative Covid-19 test before departing for the US and must quarantine upon arrival.

“We didn’t get into this mess overnight, and it will take months to turn this around. To a nation waiting for action, let me be clear on this point: Help is on the way.”

The promised help comes as deaths from Covid in the US have surpassed the 400,000 level, with Biden saying projections point to that number increasing to 500,000 in a month. But his efforts may be hampered if Republicans members of the government don’t help him pass a US $1.9 trillion economic relief and Covid response package.

Biden officials also say they’ve been hampered by a lack of cooperation from the Trump administration during the transition. They admitted they were confused about the former president’s actions on vaccine distribution which has attracted complaints from states saying that they are not getting enough vaccines on top of being asked to vaccinate more groups of people.

The new President says he is seeking to expand testing and vaccine availability, announcing a plan of 100 million shots in the first 100 days of him being in office. Some independent experts, however, are criticising the new president by saying his goal is disappointingly low. But the President responded…

“When I announced it, you all said it’s not possible. Come on, give me a break, man.”

Biden has directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to begin setting up vaccination centres, aiming to have 100 running in a month. He’s also trying to make vaccines available through local pharmacies starting next month, building on a plan devised by the Trump administration.

President Biden has also set a goal of having most K-8 schools reopen in his first 100 days, with states receiving aid from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund to help get schools back open. But administration officials say reopening schools safely depends on increased testing.

The national vaccination strategy plan put forth by the new administration, requires $160 billion, and Biden says he wants an additional $170 billion to aid the reopening of schools and universities.

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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Politics

US Ambassador to Thailand quits after Biden inaugurated

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US Ambassador to Thailand quits after Biden inaugurated | The Thaiger

The US Ambassador to Thailand seems to have quit after only serving less than 1 year in office and moments after President Biden’s inauguration. Michael George DeSombre, who was appointed by President Trump in early 2020, made the announcement of his departure on the embassy’s official social media platform yesterday. A day before, he met with PM Prayut to “thank the Royal Thai Government” as is customary with departing ambassadors. DeSombre succeeded career diplomat Glyn T. Davies.

“It has been a privilege serving as the United States Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand. I am exceedingly proud of all we have done to strengthen the US-Thai relationship. I am signing off now from this account and leaving it in the good hands of our Embassy staff.”

Now, as the US Embassy official website names Chargé d’Affaires Michael Heath as its diplomatic mission leader, it is not known when a new ambassador will be chosen by the Biden administration.

Just last year in October, DeSombre wrote, on the same day that President Trump tested positive for the virus, that he was less than supportive of a full-blown shutdown.

“The evidence over the last six months shows that the costs of a really extreme shutdown are generally worse than the benefits and it is better to keep the economy running.”

According to Wikipedia, DeSombre co-founded Republicans Overseas for Americans abroad in 2013 in which the organisation focuses on tax reform. Upon his appointment as Ambassador, DeSombre stated that his office would primarily encourage the economic partnership between the two countries, with a focus on American investments and Thailand’s infrastructure projects and supply chains.

He has also said that US firms were interested in increasing investments in Thailand, including in areas under the 1966 Amity treaty. Thailand and the US established relations in 1818 and later formalised the ties in 1833.

SOURCE: Khaosod English

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