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Snowden leaves airport; ‘Rum’ kills 11; US kidnapper Castro sentenced; China Human Rights situation deteriorating, says US

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Snowden leaves airport; ‘Rum’ kills 11; US kidnapper Castro sentenced; China Human Rights situation deteriorating, says US | The Thaiger

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

Russian airport limbo ends for Snowden, new life begins
Reuters/Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: After nearly six weeks in hiding at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, Edward Snowden walked calmly out of the transit area, ducked into a car and was driven away unnoticed.

It was an anti-climactic end to one chapter of a saga watched by the world in which the American, wanted in Washington for leaking details of secret U.S. surveillance programmes, stayed out of sight for almost 40 days and nights.

Hardly any pictures of him appeared in that time. One showed the 30-year-old meeting human rights activists at the airport, another showed him about to leave the airport.

But by the time that photograph was shown on Russian state television on Thursday evening, Snowden was long gone.

Many questions remain about the former U.S. spy agency contractor’s time in the transit area, a no-man’s-land for those with connecting flights who normally stay, at most, a few hours.

But a picture is emerging of a man who had become physically and mentally exhausted, increasingly anxious for some certainty about his future and desperate for something resembling normality after two months on the run.

“During his time there it was very difficult, psychologically difficult, because when someone’s waiting he doesn’t understand what will happen,” his Russian lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told Reuters in an interview.

“His first desire was to gulp the fresh Moscow air.”

Snowden was at first incredulous when Kucherena told him Russia had granted him a year’s temporary asylum, and then delighted. Kucherena said he left the airport with a backpack, a string bag and a sense of relief.

“Imagine yourself daily (having to listen to) ‘Dear passengers, the flight to New York, the flight to Washington, the flight from Rome’,” Kucherena said.

“He needs a period of rehabilitation, or adaptation, because he is very tired and morally exhausted.”

Speculation has been rife that Russian security services “debriefed” Snowden to find out more about the operations of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) he had worked for briefly. Moscow and Kucherena deny this, and say there was no special deal to secure Snowden’s asylum status.

Snowden found himself trapped as the United States revoked his passport and put fierce pressure on other countries not to allow any plane carrying him to use its airspace.

He may have fully understood the seriousness of his plight only after four European allies of the United States on July 2 refused to let a plane taking Bolivian President Evo Morales home from Moscow enter their airspace because they thought Snowden was on board.

Nicaragua, Venezuela and Bolivia offered to shelter Snowden, but he feared his plane would be intercepted en route.

Snowden then summoned human rights activists and lawyers to meet him at Sheremetyevo on July 12, apparently to prepare the way for a temporary asylum request in Russia. People who took part said Snowden looked pale, thin and nervous.

He managed to retain a dry sense of humour. The same day, in response to an email from a Reuters journalist who had spent a lot of time at the airport, he replied: “I, too, have been spending a bit of time in the airport.”

Kucherena said during the meeting he asked Snowden why he had not applied for asylum in Russia. As soon as he took up Snowden’s cause, signs grew that his case would be successful.

Snowden’s father, Lonnie, appeared on Russian television on Wednesday in what may have been a move to prepare Russians for Edward Snowden leaving the airport.

“There is little doubt that this was a dramatic, television preamble to some kind of event,” Anna Kachkayeva, a prominent media expert, said of the interview. She said it was intended to “evoke a sense of sympathy from many people”.

Snowden’s future in Russia is uncertain. His document allows him to work and travel and can be renewed multiple times.

He has received a marriage proposal from former Russian spy Anna Chapman, albeit sent online without meeting him, and a job offer from a Russian social networking site.

Kucherena says he cannot rule out that Snowden might host a television chat show.

“He needs to work. He is not a rich man and the money that he had, he has of course spent on food,” he said. “Of course he understands that he has to work and he has to keep on living.”

China rights scenario deteriorating, says United States
Reuters/Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: The United States got few answers to questions about detained activists during its annual rights dialogue with China, and believes the situation in the country continues to deteriorate, a senior U.S. official said on Friday.

Uzra Zeya, Acting Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, said she raised specific cases during the talks, including that of jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, as well as his wife Liu Xia, now under extra-judicial house arrest.

“Regrettably yes, I think we’ve continued to see a deterioration in the overall human rights situation in China,” Zeya said, pointing to growing harassment of family members, such as that of the relatives of blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng, now living in the United States.

“The targeting of family members is one reason for that assessment… This is a worrisome trend and one which we have raised at senior levels with the Chinese government,” Zeya added.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s appointment as Communist Party chief in a once-in-a-decade leadership change last November had inspired many Chinese with hope for political reform.

But rights groups say there has been no let up in the pressure on activists, dissidents and other groups, such as Tibetans, who have been pushing for reforms and more freedom.

China has yet to give its version of how the rights talks with the United States went.

“We certainly did raise a number of specific cases … In some cases we were able to receive some information. I would say overall it fell short of our expectations,” Zeya said.

Since Xi became president in March, police have detained around 30 of those campaigning for officials to reveal their wealth, say rights groups. Among them is well-known legal activist Xu Zhiyong, whose case Zeya said she also raised.

She said the rights situation in the restive regions of Tibet and Xinjiang were also mentioned, besides the issue of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, who is reviled by Beijing as a separatist.

Speculation surfaced this year that China might take a softer line towards the Dalai Lama, partly due to an article by a scholar from the Central Party School, which trains rising officials, who said that China could take some steps to resume talks with the Dalai Lama’s representatives that broke down in 2010.

“We did discuss our concerns in depth with respect to controls in place in Tibet,” Zeya said. “I would say that we did not come away with an impression of a shift in policy.”

Cuban death toll from methanol sold as rum climbs to 11
Reuters/Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Eleven Cubans have died this week and more than 60 are in hospital after consuming toxic industri

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Economy

Local investor sentiment dampened by Brexit woes and slump in Chinese economy

The Thaiger

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Local investor sentiment dampened by Brexit woes and slump in Chinese economy | The Thaiger

The British pound fell today as investors fret over PM Boris Johnson’s chances of pushing his Brexit deal through the British parliament, while Asian markets were mostly down after data showed China’s economy expanded at its slowest pace in nearly three decades.

The pound rallied almost to US$1.30 yesterday following news that negotiators had hammered out an agreement that would avoid Britain leaving the EU without a divorce deal – a move many warn would be economically catastrophic. But the brief celebrations were soon tempered by the realisation that the British PM faces an uphill task in getting the deal past lawmakers, with opposition MPs and even some in his own Conservative party saying they won’t pass it.

Most importantly, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up Johnson’s government, said it was “unable to support these proposals”.

Forex traders sold sterling, pushing it back down below $1.29, and it extended losses in Asia. Focus is now on a crucial vote in London on the deal scheduled for tomorrow (Saturday).

“Much will depend on the PM’s ability to get some if not all DUP and (Scottish National Party) MPs onside, in addition to also getting the backing from the 21 ex-Conservative MPs he expelled from the party last month,” said National Australia Bank’s Rodrigo Catril.

“Rejection of the deal might well see more political brinkmanship around a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, but the most likely scenario would be yet another extension of the 31 October Brexit date.”

Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA, said whichever way the vote goes, “traders should prepare themselves for some severe volatility on Monday morning, with multiple big-figure moves a strong possibility”.

China growth slows again

Asian equity markets, meanwhile, were mostly lower after China said its economy expanded 6% in the third quarter, the slowest pace in 27 years, as leaders struggle to address weak domestic demand and the long-running US trade war.

The reading was a drop from the previous three months but in line with an AFP forecast and the government’s 6-6.5% target for the year.

While the National Bureau of Statistics said the economy “maintained overall stability”, it added that it “is under mounting downward pressure” from weakness at home and abroad.

Shanghai ended down 1.3% with Stephen Innes at AxiTrader saying traders were concerned the figures were not weak enough to prompt the Chinese central bank to embark on a big stimulus drive.

“With the People’s Bank of China, who arguably have plenty of policy ammunition to right the ship, probably unwilling to turn on the monetary taps, investors are taking risk off the table,” he said in a note.

Hong Kong was off 0.5% amid concern over the possibility of more violent protests over the weekend, while Sydney closed down 0.5 percent and Singapore eased 0.4%.

Seoul shed 0.8% and Wellington lost 0.7%, with Taipei and Manila also lower. But Tokyo closed 0.2 higher at a 10-month high, while Mumbai and Jakarta also edged up.

Hopes for the China-US trade talks were given a lift after Beijing’s commerce ministry said negotiators have “accelerated efforts” to hammer out details of last Friday’s mini-deal and were holding talks on moving on to the next phase of a wider agreement.

Donald Trump said Wednesday he hopes to sign the deal with President Xi Jinping at the APEC summit in Chile next month.

And the Turkish lira jumped more than 1% after Ankara said it would pause military operations in northern Syria for five days and US Vice President Mike Pence said Washington would not impose any fresh sanctions.

Key markets today…

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2857 from $1.2891 at 2050 GMT

Euro/pound: UP at 86.48 pence from 86.31 pence

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1122 from $1.1127

Dollar/yen: UP at 108.63 yen from 108.62 yen

London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.4% at 7,152.55

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.2% at 22,492.68 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.5% at 26,719.58 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 1.3% at 2,938.14 (close)

West Texas Intermediate: UP four cents at $53.97 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 22 cents at $59.69 per barrel

New York – Dow: UP 0.1% at 27,025.88 (close)

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

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Philippines

Powerful 6.4 earthquake kills five in the Philippines

May Taylor

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Powerful 6.4 earthquake kills five in the Philippines | The Thaiger

PHOTO: AFP

A strong 6.4 magnitude earthquake has struck the southern Philippines, killing five, including one child, destroying property and disrupting power supply. The death toll is expected to rise.

The powerful quake was felt across the Mindanao region, even causing a 3-storey shopping mall to burst into flames. Residents were evacuated and a child was killed when a house collapsed in the town of Datu Paglas.

AFP reports that the quake was 14 kilometres deep and followed by two aftershocks. The Philippines is part of the “Ring of Fire”, a zone of constant seismic activity that stretches from Japan through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific.

Several injuries have been reported as a result of falling debris. The shopping mall that caught fire was evacuated when the quake struck, but it’s not yet known if there were still people inside as the fire took hold.

The mall was still on fire three hours later as nearly 100 firemen battled to put it out.

Residents on the coast in Davao fled to higher ground fearing a tsunami, even though a government seismologist reassured people there was no tsunami risk as the quake had occurred inland.

It’s understood that prisoners in the municipal jail in the town of Bansalan were also let out, but placed in handcuffs and held outside for the duration of the evacuation.

SOURCE: AFP

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World

Key ally rejects PM Johnson’s Brexit plan – Sterling sags

The Thaiger

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Key ally rejects PM Johnson’s Brexit plan – Sterling sags | The Thaiger

The British Pound tumbled again today after UK PM Boris Johnson’s key ally in parliament said it “could not support” his plans for a Brexit deal, throwing a spanner in the works – just as Britain and the EU were closing in on an agreement.

The comment caused an immediate reaction from this morning’s Asia Pacific markets.

After years of wrangling, the two sides said they were edging towards the basis for a treaty allowing Britain to avoid an economically catastrophic “no-deal” exit from the European Union.

With both teams working through the night, EU negotiator Michel Barnier said there had been “good progress, and work is ongoing”, while France’s deputy foreign minister said Thursday a deal was “within reach but is not guaranteed”.

There had been optimism that a deal was in the offing, just two weeks before Britain is due to leave the bloc, as they worked towards a solution on the vexed question of British-ruled Northern Ireland.

But Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) dropped a bombshell hours before the start of a crunch EU summit Thursday, saying it cannot support the plan.

“As things stand, we could not support what is being suggested on customs and consent issues, and there is a lack of clarity” on Value Added Tax, the DUP, which props up Johnson’s government, said in a statement on Twitter.

“We will continue to work with the Government to try and get a sensible deal that works for Northern Ireland and protects the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom.”

DUP leader Arlene Foster had met Johnson several times this week to discuss the progress of talks and had described as “nonsense” previous reports that she was ready to give way.

The pound, which earlier in the day was hovering at five-month highs around $1.2877 sank to $1.2750 before edging back slightly, while it also lost ground to the euro.

The DUP are against any deal that would tie Northern Ireland to EU rules but cut the rest of the United Kingdom loose.

Markets react

In early trade, London’s FTSE added 0.1%, Paris was flat and Frankfurt eased 0.2%. In Asia, most markets were in the red, with traders unable to take advantage of weak US retail data that raised the chances of another Federal Reserve interest rate cut. Comments in the Fed’s Beige Book update on the economy also pointed to a slowdown.

Hong Kong added 0.7% but Shanghai finished 0.1% lower and Tokyo lost 0.1%.

Sydney sank 0.8%, Singapore shed 0.7% and Seoul retreated 0.2%t, with Wellington and Manila also off. There were gains in Taipei, Mumbai, Bangkok and Jakarta.

Speculation about a possible US rate cut provided support to higher-yielding currencies against the dollar, with the Australian dollar 0.6 percent up and the South Korean won 0.1 percent stronger. The Thai baht, the Mexican peso and the South African rand also posted healthy gains.

Oil prices fell after data pointed to a sharp rise in US stockpiles that reinforced worries about the impact on demand from the China-US trade war and the global economic slowdown.

Key markets today

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2784 from $1.2817 at 2100 GMT

Euro/pound: UP at 86.65 pence from 86.33 pence

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1081 from $1.1073

Dollar/yen: UP at 108.80 yen from 108.71 yen

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.1 percent at 7,175.09

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.1% at 22,451.86 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 0.7% at 26,848.49 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.1% at 2,977.33 (close)

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 56 cents at $52.80 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 55 cents at $58.87 per barrel

New York – Dow: DOWN 0.1% at 27,001.98 (close)

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

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