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Syrian rebels maintain pressure; UN denounces

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Syrian rebels maintain pressure; UN denounces | Thaiger
PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

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

Assad’s forces try to beat back rebels closing on Damascus
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Syrian government forces battled on Friday to recapture sections of the Damascus ring road from rebels pressing in on the capital, opposition activists said.

War planes fired rockets around Jobar, Qaboun and Barzeh neighbourhoods, the sources said. Heavy fighting was taking place at the Hermalleh junction on the ring road just south of Jobar, which had been seized by the rebels.

Rebel fighters based in the eastern Ghouta region broke through government defensive lines on Wednesday, capturing parts of the road and entering Jobar, 2 km (one mile) from security bases in the heart of the city.

President Bashar al-Assad, struggling to contain a revolt in which 60,000 people have been killed since March 2011, has lost control of large parts of Syria but his forces, backed by air power, have so far kept rebels away from central Damascus.

Captain Islam Alloush of the Liwa al-Islam rebel unit said his fighters did not plan to stay on the road. Their control of surrounding areas already rendered the road useless as an army supply line.

“They are fighting off the regime forces but they do not intend to stay at Hermalleh if their losses mount. The objective of this operation is a slow advance toward Damascus,” he told Reuters.

Alloush said the rebels had posted snipers in Jobar, where army roadblocks had been overrun or surrounded.

A university student living in Jobar said control of the Harmalleh junction was changing hands between the rebels and the army. By attacking the road, he said, the rebels had linked Jobar with the eastern Ghouta, a rebel-held expanse of suburbs and farmland adjoining Damascus.

The Local Coordination Committees, an opposition activist group, said 44 people were killed in Damascus on Friday. They said 46 people were killed on Thursday, mostly from army shelling.

With a supply line open to military bases on the coast, Assad’s core forces from his minority Alawite sect are still based comfortably in the Qasioun mountains on the northwest edge of Damascus, from where they have been shelling the suburbs.

Rebel commanders say they have made mistakes in the past, entering Damascus and other cities without first cutting army supply lines.

Fawaz Tello, a veteran opposition campaigner connected with rebels in Damascus, said the operation was part of a slow encroachment by rebels on the capital.

“Even if the rebels withdraw from the ring road, it will become, like other parts of the capital, too dangerous for the regime to use it,” said Tello, speaking from Berlin.

“We are witnessing a ‘two steps forward, one step back’ rebel strategy. It is a long way before we can say Assad has become besieged in Damascus, but when another main road is rendered useless for him the noose tightens and his control further erodes.”

Assad, aged 47, has been president of Syria since the death in 2000 of his father Hafez al-Assad, the “Lion of Damascus”, who had ruled for 30 years.

Resentment against the dynasty’s repressive ruled boiled into pro-democracy protests in March 2011 and the country has slid into full-scale civil war, with rebel forces based around the country’s Sunni majority. Assad is backed by Shi’te power Iran.

The prospect of a negotiated settlement is slim. But Syrian Information Minister Amra al-Zubi said on Friday the opposition was welcome to come to Damascus to discuss Syria’s future in line with Assad’s proposals for a national dialogue.

Assad’s main foes, who have mostly been driven into exile, had already rejected the proposal.

Zubi did not respond to an initiative by opposition leader Moaz Alkhatib, who heads the Syrian National Coalition, to meet Assad’s ceremonial deputy Farouq al-Shara if the authorities began releasing tens of thousands of political prisoners.

Khatib, a moderate cleric from Damascus who met representatives of Assad’s main backers, Russia and Iran, in Germany this week, said he will withdraw his initiative on Saturday if the authorities do not release all the women jailed during the revolt.

World powers fear the conflict – the longest and deadliest of the uprisings that spread through the Arab world two years ago – could envelop Syria’s neighbours, further destabilising an the region.

U.N. denounces “sorcery” crimes in Papua New Guinea
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: A woman was burnt alive in Papua New Guinea this week after townspeople accused her of sorcery, the United Nations said on Friday, citing the “heinous crime” as part of a growing pattern of vigilante attacks on people accused of witchcraft.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called on authorities in Papua New Guinea to investigate such crimes and bring their perpetrators to justice.

A 1971 law defining sorcery as a crime in the South Pacific nation should be repealed, Pillay’s spokeswoman said.

“We are deeply disturbed by reports of the torture and killing of a 20-year-old woman accused of sorcery in Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea, on February 6,” U.N. human rights spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly told a news briefing in Geneva.

Kepari Leniata was burnt alive in front of a crowd, by relatives of the 6-year-old boy whom she was accused of using sorcery to kill, she said. Attempts by law enforcement officials to intervene failed.

“We note with great concern that this case adds to the growing pattern of vigilante attacks and killings of persons accused of sorcery in Papua New Guinea,” Pouilly added.

The U.N. human rights office was able to document a case of five people, three of them women, who were tortured for 20 days and killed last November after being accused of using sorcery to kill others in Jiwaka province, she said.

“We think it is clearly under-reported, because many of these cases happen in rural areas and go unreported. It is clearly deeply rooted,” she told reporters.

Rashida Manjoo, U.N. special rapporteur on violence against women, met victims of sorcery during an investigative mission to Papua New Guinea last March. Widows or other family with no family to protect them are particularly vulnerable to such attacks, she said in a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

“I was shocked to witness the brutality of the assaults perpetrated against suspected sorcerers, which in many cases include torture, rape, mutilations and murder. According to many interviewees, sorcery accusations are commonly used to deprive women of their land and/or their property,” she wrote.

The country’s Constitutional Law Reform Commission has held consultations on the 1971 Sorcery Act and called for its repeal but has yet to present its report to the parliament, Pouilly said.

“We welcome the proposal by the Constitutional Law Reform Commission to repeal the Sorcery Act and we call for a stronger legal response to such killings,” she told Reuters.

Pirates kidnap three cargo ship crew in Gulf of Guinea
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Pirates have attacked a British-owned cargo ship in the Gulf of Guinea, taking three crew members hostage, the vessel’s owner said.

The UK-flagged ship Esther C w

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Covid-19 vaccine CEOs say 3rd dose may be needed along with annual jabs

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Covid-19 vaccine CEOs say 3rd dose may be needed along with annual jabs | Thaiger
Stock photo of Pfizer vaccine via Flickr

The CEO for the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines says it is likely that people will need a 3rd dose of the vaccine and to receive it annually. Albert Bourla, told CNBC, that the booster, or 3rd dose, will be needed less than a year after being fully vaccinated.

“A likely scenario is that there will be likely a need for a 3rd dose, somewhere between 6 and 12 months and then from there, there will be an annual revaccination, but all of that needs to be confirmed. And again, the variants will play a key role. It is extremely important to suppress the pool of people that can be susceptible to the virus.”

Bourla’s comment echoes that of Johnson & Johnson’s CEO when he stated in February, that people may need to get vaccinated against Covid-19 annually, just like seasonal flu shots. Both statements reflect the fact that since the vaccine is new, and testing periods are shorter than most vaccines in the past, researchers are still unclear about how long the vaccine will protect against the virus.

Pfizer says that its Covid-19 vaccine was more than 91% effective at protecting against the coronavirus and more than 95% effective against severe diseases up to 6 months after the 2nd dose. Moderna’s vaccine, which uses technology similar to Pfizer’s, was also shown to be highly effective at 6 months.

Just yesterday, the Biden administration’s Covid response chief science officer, David Kessler, noted that new Covid variants could “challenge” the effectiveness of the shots.

“We don’t know everything at this moment. We are studying the durability of the antibody response. It seems strong but there is some waning of that and no doubt the variants challenge … they make these vaccines work harder. So I think for planning purposes, planning purposes only, I think we should expect that we may have to boost.”

Late last month, the National Institute of Health started testing a new Covid vaccine from Moderna in addition to the one it already has, designed to protect against a problematic variant first found in South Africa. The variant is similar to that of the UK one that has recently made landfall in Thailand.

Recent findings, by The Lancet, however, have stated that the UK variant, known as B117, has a higher reproductive rate than other strains, and it’s more transmissible. However, it refuted earlier reports that the strain is more severe. Meanwhile, Thailand’s health minister is confirming his commitment to making AstraZeneca the nation’s chosen vaccine.

SOURCE: CNBC

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Economy

China grows 18.3%, the only major economy to grow in 2020

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China grows 18.3%, the only major economy to grow in 2020 | Thaiger
PHOTO: China - the second largest economy, and only major economy to grow last year.

China’s economy set a record for growth in Q1, 2021, marking an 18.3% jump in year-on-year figures, the biggest quarterly growth in almost 30 years. China only started publishing growth statistics in 1992, and this drastic increase is the fastest growth recorded since then.

The figures, however impressive, are mainly due to what is called a “low base effect” where the change from a low starting point translates into big percentage statistics. Because of the devastating economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Q1 2020 figures were dismal, allowing the big gain over the last year.

Quarter to quarter, the last 3 months saw only a 0.6% growth, but in the last quarter of 2020 China recorded an economic boom of 6.5% according to the Chinese government. Still, the figures are admirable, as China was the only major economy in the world to achieve growth in 2020. Most of the planet struggled to contain global Covid-19 outbreaks, crippling economies across the globe. But China, now the second-largest economy in the world, managed a 2.3% overall expansion. Even Chinese officials called the impressive statistics “better than we had expected.”

China has been growing in terms of imports and exports as well, with exports expanding nearly 31% and imports up 38% by price over last years.

SOURCE: CNN

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Denmark becomes first country in Europe to ditch AstraZeneca vaccine

Maya Taylor

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Denmark becomes first country in Europe to ditch AstraZeneca vaccine | Thaiger
PHOTO: Flickr

Denmark has announced that it is abandoning the AstraZeneca vaccine, the first European country to do so, amid concerns about very rare but serious blood clots. The rollout of the vaccine has run into problems in several countries, with its use either temporarily suspended or restricted to older age groups.

When concerns first arose over the vaccine’s rare side-effects, Denmark was the first country in Europe to suspend its use. In Thailand, use of the vaccine was suspended last month, before officials judged it safe to proceed, with Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul going on to confirm it would become the Kingdom’s primary Covid-19 vaccine.

Both the European drugs regulator and the World Health Organisation are standing by the jab, saying the benefits outweigh the risks. However, health officials in Denmark have now decided to ditch it for good.

“Denmark’s vaccination campaign will go ahead without the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

Denmark has reported 2 cases of thrombosis (blood clotting) linked to administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine, one of which proved fatal. The blood clot incidents arose after 140,000 people had received the jab. The Bangkok Post reports that 8% of Denmark’s 5.8 million inhabitants have been fully vaccinated and 17% have received their first dose.

The country plans to continue its rollout using the Modern and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. Officials say they are confident that the availability of other jabs, coupled with the fact that Covid-19 is relatively under control in Denmark, means the country’s mass inoculation can continue without issue.

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca has released a statement acknowledging the decision taken by Danish health authorities.

“We recognise and respect the decision taken by the Danish Health Authority. Implementation and rollout of the vaccine programme is a matter for each country to decide, based on local conditions. We will continue to collaborate with the regulators and local authorities to provide all available data to inform their decisions.”

SOURCE: Euro News | Bangkok Post

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