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Phuket Gazette World News: In lair of Mexico drug boss, vigilantes hold sway

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

In lair of Mexico drug boss, vigilantes hold sway
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: His AK-47 tossed onto a pristine leather sofa in the plush lair of a leader of one of Mexico’s most feared drug cartels, vigilante fighter “El Love” says he is longing for an end to a grinding cycle of extortion and murder.

Channel-surfing on a plasma TV abandoned by the drug lord fleeing a revolt by farmers fed up with organized crime, the 43-year-old El Love has taken charge of the property, symbolizing a victory over the Caballeros Templarios, or Knights Templar.

The Knights Templar pose the biggest security challenge yet for President Enrique Pena Nieto, by taking a firm grip on large areas of Michoacan, an impoverished agricultural state which is also home to Mexico’s biggest cargo port.

For now though, heavily armed vigilante groups have struck back, occupying much of the Knights’ heartland with federal forces standing by – raising questions about how the government will restore order in a state that has been lawless for years.

The presence of the vigilantes alongside hundreds of federal police and soldiers is almost as incongruous as the spacious seven bedroom home of the departed Knights Templar leader.

Alongside a grime-laden mechanic’s shop and an abandoned-looking building on a main thoroughfare in the town of Nueva Italia, the lair is hidden behind the facade of a shuttered warehouse filled with cement and building equipment.

Inside, its bedrooms are decked out with a large dressing room, an ante-chamber and flat-screen television.

A swimming pool, bar and fountains are out back. And columns on the terrace are decorated with mirrors that look like disco balls.

“They’re just people who extort and kill, and they live like kings. Just look at this!” El Love said, refusing to give his real name for fear of reprisals from the Knights Templar.

“If they come back, I’ll kill them,” he said. And just in case they do, El Love has 500 rounds of ammunition at hand.

Behind him, a gleaming new kitchen, decorative ornaments and a cluster of checkbooks with stubs detailing payments into thousands of dollars. In the sprawling bedrooms are stacks of empty Louis Vuitton boxes and Chanel and Gucci bags. On a bedside table, there is a box of condoms and a radio scanner.

And in the fridge, a bottle of Moet champagne.

A jacuzzi can be seen through the doorway of a giant dressing room. On one shelf sits a bottle containing a mix of alcohol and marijuana, a traditional remedy for aches and pains in Michoacan.

“They left in a hurry,” El Love said, pointing to goldfish in a shallow water-filled channel along one of the walls.

Fronted by a former schoolteacher, the Knights Templar is a cult-like group that styles itself on the medieval military order that protected Christian pilgrims during the Crusades.

In the home the vigilantes said belonged to one of the gang’s top bosses, a Bible sits on the dining table, and on a shelf is a photo of the late Pope John Paul II.

“We’re going to turn it into a home for kids or something. Just let the narcos try to come back!” said Charlie, a senior vigilante who was badly hurt along with vigilante leader Jose Mireles when a plane crash-landed earlier this month.

The vigilantes say they have amassed weapons and vehicles left behind by the fleeing drug gang members. On Thursday, the vigilantes returned to the original owners the deeds to farm land grabbed by the Knights Templar.

Fragile calm

The Knights Templar have defied the government, putting out videos on the Internet and accusing the vigilantes of being infiltrated by other criminal gangs moving into Michoacan.

Vigilantes claiming to number in the thousands, a rag-tag band of lime farmers and others with some military training, crew-cuts and sophisticated weapons, have taken the fight to organized crime and put the Knights on the run.

The vigilantes have fought pitched battles with the Knights in Nueva Italia in recent weeks. Workmen on Thursday filled in walls pock-marked with bullet holes in one neighborhood, where the walls of a school also bore the marks of bullets.

The vigilantes, or “self-defence groups”, have snubbed a government order to stand down and disarm. Instead, they operate openly, manning roadblocks and patrolling unopposed as heavily armed troops and state police drive by, turning a blind eye.

They have cast a spotlight’s glare on Pena Nieto’s security strategy. The president has spent the past year pushing economic reforms aimed at boosting the economy, and seeking to keep the focus off the violence that has claimed over 80,000 lives since 2007.

A convoy of hundreds of federal police and troops on Tuesday moved into the Knights Templar stronghold of Apatzingan, but sporadic attacks have continued.

Gunmen have burned shops and sprayed the state attorney general’s offices with bullets. However, on Thursday, shops reopened under the watch of soldiers and federal police.

After years of raging violence and abortive government attempts to take control, some residents fear a backlash.

“I don’t think things are calm,” said Maria de Jesus Torres Blanco, as she served soft drinks at a stall in the main square in Nueva Italia. “When this lot have gone, there will be reprisals. I think this is a time-bomb waiting to explode.”

— 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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