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Phuket Gazette World News: Syrian government to allow women, children to exit war zone

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Phuket Gazette World News: Syrian government to allow women, children to exit war zone | The Thaiger
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PHUKET MEDIA WATCH
– World news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Syria talks bring offer of exit from siege of Homs
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: The Syrian government offered to let women and children leave the besieged city of Homs on Sunday as negotiators from the warring sides discussed humanitarian gestures on a second day of face-to-face talks in Geneva.

Government and opposition delegates also spoke of releasing prisoners and enabling access for aid convoys during what the U.N. mediator acknowledged was a slow process but one which he hoped would lead to broaching the central issue that divides them after three years of civil war – namely the future of Syria’s political structures and of President Bashar al-Assad.

Homs, occupying a strategic location at the centre of Syria’s main road network, has been a key battleground. Assad’s forces retook many of the surrounding towns and villages last year, leaving rebels under siege in the centre of Homs itself, along with thousands of civilians.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told a news conference after Sunday’s meetings that the government would let women and children leave the city centre if rebels gave them safe passage. U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said he understood that they would be free to quit Homs immediately.

Mekdad said: “If the armed terrorists in Homs allow women and children to leave the old city of Homs, we will allow them every access. Not only that, we will provide them with shelter, medicines and all that is needed … We are ready to allow any humanitarian aid to enter into the city through the agreements and arrangements made with the U.N.”

In the city itself, however, opposition activists said rebels were demanding a complete lifting of the blockade. Some criticised negotiations in Geneva on a limited ceasefire to allow people to leave and let aid into the city. One video posted online showed demonstrators carrying Islamist flags and denouncing the Geneva talks as “treachery”.

Brahimi, who presided on Saturday over the first direct meeting between the two delegations, met both together again on Sunday morning, before holding discussions with each side separately in the afternoon to go over their positions. He aimed to hold another joint session on Monday, when he hoped to begin discussion of a U.N. plan for a transitional government.

Acknowledging the slow start to proceedings which began with a formal international conference on Wednesday, Brahimi said: “This is a political negotiation … Our negotiation is not the main place where humanitarian issues are discussed.

“But I think we all felt … that you cannot start a negotiation about Syria without having some discussion about the very, very bad humanitarian situation that exists.”

Prisoners

Brahimi said opposition delegates, who want the government to release tens of thousands of detainees, had agreed to a government request to try to provide a list of those held by armed rebel groups – though many of these groups, fighting among themselves, do not recognise the negotiators’ authority.

Asked about a list of 47,000 detainees submitted by the opposition, Mekdad said the government had examined the list and found most had either never been held or were now free. He also denied rebel assertions that children were being held.

Western powers and Russia, respectively supportive of the opposition and of Assad, have buried their differences in the hope that a negotiating process can prevent the Syrian conflict spilling further across the region.

International diplomats say the very fact of talking, and possibly making concessions on humanitarian grounds, is a start to seeking a settlement to a war neither side seems capable of winning outright. But that still seems a distant prospect.

Moscow, Western governments and the rebels’ Arab allies all endorsed a U.N. protocol agreed in 2012 and known as Geneva 1 that calls for a transitional government – although, unlike the United States and others, Russia says this does not mean categorically that Assad must give up power immediately.

The opposition’s insistence that he must, and Assad’s equally determined rejection of that demand, leave it unclear what progress the talks, dubbed Geneva 2, can achieve.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier he hoped the talks could be conducted in a more business-like manner after the two sides exchanged bitter recriminations during a preliminary day of speeches last Wednesday.

In an interview with NTV television, he called for progress on aid, unblocking besieged areas and prisoner exchanges.

“All this would strengthen trust and affect the atmosphere at the talks in Geneva. Beyond this, it is very difficult to make guesses; the situation is extremely grave, positions are polarised, emotions are on the edge,” he said in comments posted on the Foreign Ministry’s website.

Underlining the immense difficulty of implementing even local agreements on the ground, a U.N. agency trying to deliver aid to a besieged district of Damascus said state checkpoint officials had hampered its work, despite assurances from the government that it would allow the distributions.

Humanitarian efforts in Syria have been hindered by fighting and by combatants on both sides who often try to block deliveries to areas held by their opponents.

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) complained about problems in delivering food and other aid to Yarmouk, a district of Damascus that is home to impoverished Syrians and Palestinians, despite government assurances.

Geneva not sacred

An adviser to Assad, Bouthaina Shaaban, complained that opposition delegates were focusing on local issues and said the U.N. protocol agreed 18 months ago should be amended.

“We did not come here to bring relief to a region here or a region there. We came here to restore safety and security to our country,” she said.

The government was ready to discuss the 2012 Geneva accord, but that “doesn’t mean every word of Geneva is sacred”.

“Geneva is not the Koran, it’s not the Gospel,” she said. “Geneva was issued in June 2012. We are now January 26, 2014. The ground has changed. We change according to what this reality requires.”

In the summer of 2012 rebel forces took control of much of Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city, and were challenging Assad’s forces on the edge of Damascus. Since then, backed by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters and Iranian military commanders, Assad’s forces have halted the rebel advances and consolidated control over the centre of the country, although there is little sign of them retaking swathes of rebel-held territory in the east.

Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoabi said there was no chance of Assad surrendering power. “If anybody thinks or believes that there is a possibility for what is called the stepping down of President Bashar al-Assad, they live in a mythical world and let them stay in Alice in Wonderland.”

Profound mutual mistrust and the absence from Geneva of powerful Islamist opposition groups make any substantial progress very difficult, and previous aid deals and ceasefires in Syria have proved short-lived.

There are now hundreds of rebel groups across the country, including hardline Islamists and al Qaeda-linked militants whose presence has discouraged Western governments from backing the rebellion more forcefully.

Few fighters pay heed to the opposition in exile and the powerful Islamic Front has said negotiators who return from Geneva withou

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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World

Son of Sultan of Brunei dies at the age of 38

Maya Taylor

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Son of Sultan of Brunei dies at the age of 38 | The Thaiger
PHOTO: The Scoop

The son of the Sultan of Brunei has died at the age of 38, the government of Brunei has confirmed. Prince Azim, who was 4th in line to the throne, passed away on Saturday morning. While the cause of death has not been confirmed, his Wikipedia entry says he succumbed to a long illness.

CNN reports that the prince had made a name for himself as a Hollywood film producer, where he was known for hosting extravagant parties with celebrity guests that included Mariah Carey, Pamela Anderson, and Janet Jackson, among others. His success in film came despite international condemnation of his father’s harsh rule in Brunei, where parts of Sharia law are in force and capital punishment involves death by stoning.

The nation of Brunei has entered a 7-day mourning period, with leaders from neighbouring countries expressing their condolences on the death of the prince. A statement from the Indonesian embassy in Brunei said Prince Azim, “will always be remembered fondly.” The prime minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, described him as someone who was, “known for his kind and generous spirit, and for his dedication to charitable, educational, and youth causes.”

SOURCE: CNN

 

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World

Malaysian PM called to quit, criticised for “abuse of power” during Covid-19 crisis

Caitlin Ashworth

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Malaysian PM called to quit, criticised for “abuse of power” during Covid-19 crisis | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Facebook: Muhyiddin Yassin

While protesters in Thailand are calling on PM Prayut Chan-o-cha to resign, the Malaysia PM Muhyiddin Yassin is experiencing similar calls after he attempted to declare a state of emergency amid a rise in Covid-19 infections, but the request was rejected by the Malaysian King.

Some say the prime minister’s attempt to impose the order was intended to suspend parliament and “curb the government process”. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim recently claimed he had the majority of support in parliament and challenged the prime minister. He suggested the call for a state of emergency was to avoid a vote on the annual supply bill which he may have lost, effectively a vote of no confidence in the current PM and his government.

When Muhyiddin requested a state of emergency, Anwar said the Malaysian PM was trying to “curb the parliamentary process.” He said using the Covid-19 crisis as an excuse to suspend sessions is an “abuse of power” and called the state of emergency request a “descent into dictatorship and authoritarianism.”

“A state of emergency is declared when there is a threat to our national security. But when the government is itself the source of that threat, then a state of emergency is nothing more than the descent into dictatorship and authoritarianism. I strongly advise Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to consider the legacy of these actions he is taking out of self interest and selfishness.”

Anwar released another media statement after the Malaysian King’s refusal saying it “affirms the strength of the constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy.”

King Al-Sultan Abdullah rejected the emergency order request yesterday. The prime minister holds a slim majority in parliament, but with his request rejected by the King, his hold on power is now palpably weaker. Now some leaders are calling on Muhyiddin to resign.

Ahmad Puad Zarkashi, a senior leader in the United Malays National Organisation made a Facebook post calling on the prime minister to resign.

“Thankfully, His Majesty the King was not influenced by the political game that could drag the country into more critical territory… The people’s wellbeing is more important. By right, Muhyiddin should step down.”

Opposition lawmaker Wong Chen calls the proposal for a state of emergency “malicious” and says the prime minister should resign or fire ministers who proposed the emergency orders.

SOURCES: Reuters | Twitter: Anwar Ibrahim

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

UPDATE: World Covid cases surge again, US reports 81,000+ cases in past 24 hours

The Thaiger

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UPDATE: World Covid cases surge again, US reports 81,000+ cases in past 24 hours | The Thaiger

Both the rate of new infections and deaths from the coronavirus has begun to spike in the worldwide totals again with some countries and locations having to go back into lockdowns for a second or third time. In the US and parts of Europe a major new surge of cases is concerning health authorities, especially as these countries are now heading into cooler weather, and people gathering indoors.

As of Saturday morning, Thai time, a total of 42,462,925 people have been infected worldwide with Covid-19, 1,148,698 have died and 31,417,499 have recovered.

UPDATE: World Covid cases surge again, US reports 81,000+ cases in past 24 hours | News by The Thaiger

The following graph shows today’s top ten countries with the most new infections in the past 24 hours…

UPDATE: World Covid cases surge again, US reports 81,000+ cases in past 24 hours | News by The Thaiger

SOURCE: worldometers.info

Here’s a summary of some of the main world Covid-19 headlines…

ITALY

Italy has recorded another record with 19,143 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours. That’s up from Thursday’s record of 16,079 new coronavirus cases. 91 coronavirus deaths were also reported on Friday. The governor of Campania in Vincenzo De Luca has made a formal request for a national lockdown and says he will close his region “for 30 to 40 days” to try and control the recent surge.

The governor of Lombardy lamented that it is a “dramatic situation.” Lombardy was the epicentre of one of the first, and most dangerous. clusters in the world after the virus first spread out of China.

UPDATE: World Covid cases surge again, US reports 81,000+ cases in past 24 hours | News by The Thaiger

GRAPH: New cases surging across Italy – worldometers.info

US

A study from the Covid-19 forecasting team at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation reports that… if 95% of Americans wore masks in public, more than 100,000 lives could be saved from Covid-19 over the next 4 months.

In a survey done in September, only about 49% of US residents reported that they “always” wear a mask in public.

The study calculated that, if the current extent of mask-wearing were to continue, and states continue with removing social distancing mandates, the death toll across the US from Covid-19 could reach about 1 million deaths by the end of February.

“The study had some limitations, including that the findings are only forecast projections from models and not definitive of what the future holds.”

The IHME Director Dr. Chris Murray maintains that the study still helps offer insight into how mask-wearing can make a difference.

URUGUAY

Uruguay is closing its borders during the summer season as a program to help curb the spread of Covid-19. Uraguay’s President Luis Lacalle Pou says that it will be “a restricted summer”.

“The borders will be basically closed, with exceptions that are already known and perhaps some more.

“Because today there are many cases, or several cases, in the education sector, we have decided to suspend face-to-face classes for two weeks.”

“Public safety measures will be enforced… avoid large gatherings and parties. We will be very strict when it comes to the topic of parties.”

Uruguay, with a total population of 3.5 million, has reported at least 2,701 confirmed new cases of Covid-19 and 53 deaths as of Friday morning and shares borders with Argentina and Brazil, both heavily impacted with a rise of Covid cases.

FRANCE

The head of infectious diseases at Tenon Hospital in Paris, Gilles Pialoux, says France is paying the price for ending the coronavirus lockdown too quickly.

On Thursday, France announced 41,622 new cases, and on Friday 42,032.

It will be “really difficult to avoid a second lockdown given the circulation of the virus.”

Gilles says local lockdowns or lockdowns “by population group” could be the solution. The doctor added the circulation of the virus among the “20-30 year old age group was far beyond the rest of the population”.

EUROPE

5 countries with the highest rate of new Covid infections, when measured against population, are all in Europe.

They are the Czech Republic, Switzerland, France, Belgium and The Netherlands. The number of new infections has risen sharply since the start of October, and continues to surge as the European autumn sets in.

As of last Thursday, the Czech Republic had a rolling daily average (across five days) of 10,579 new cases, meaning 988 new infections a day per 1 million population, a four-fold increase since the start of October. Belgium, was in the same situation with an average of 891 new infections per million residents as of last Thursday. The two countries have by far the highest rate of new Covid-19 infections.

UK

The UK has seen a sharp increase in its rolling averages during October, from 9,729 new cases to 19,290 per day. And the situation in Spain is less dramatic “but the daily average remains stubbornly high”. Infections per million are lower in other European countries, but they are still rising.

In comparison, the rolling averages of new cases in India and Brazil continue to fall, while the US is seeing a gradual but persistent rise. Its rolling average has risen from 43,089 at the start of October to 59,387 this week, representing 179 new cases a day per million population.

The UK’s economic recovery after the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has now flattened out and threatens to reverse and trigger a double-dip recession. The government has announced new restrictions to tackle the second wave which are expected to stifle business activity.

A new survey of business activity indicates private sector growth in the UK falling back as hospitality and transport companies struggled to cope with regional lockdown measures.

US

As autumn spreads across North American, 25 states in the US are reporting rising Covid-19 infections. White House Coronavirus Taskforce officials say there are “early signs of deterioration in the Sun Belt and continued deterioration in the Midwest and across the Northern States”.

Last Wednesday, at least 14 states had recorded their highest seven-day average of new daily cases, according to Johns Hopkins University. Including Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, Wisconsin, Wyoming.

Meanwhile, more than 41,000 people are currently hospitalised with the coronavirus across the country, according to the CovidTracking Project. Missouri and Idaho health officials say they’ll “soon be facing a crisis if hospitalisations continue to surge”.

The US reported the highest daily death toll in more than a month, with more than 1,100 new deaths.

UPDATE: World Covid cases surge again, US reports 81,000+ cases in past 24 hours | News by The Thaiger

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