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Two arrested after migrant boat capsize horror

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PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

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

Two arrested after migrant boat capsize horror
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: The European Union proposed doubling the size of its Mediterranean search and rescue operations on Monday, as the first bodies were brought ashore of as many as 900 people feared killed in the deadliest known shipwreck of migrants trying to reach Europe.

Three other rescue operations were underway on Monday to save hundreds more migrants in peril on overloaded vessels making the journey from the north coast of Africa to Europe. Italian prosecutors also announced they had arrested 24 suspected migrant traffickers although it was not clear whether they had any connection with the latest disaster.

The mass deaths have caused shock in Europe, where a decision to scale back naval operations last year seems to have increased the risks for migrants without reducing their numbers.

“The situation in the Mediterranean is dramatic. It cannot continue like this,” said European Council President Donald Tusk, calling an extraordinary summit of EU leaders for Thursday to plan how to stop human traffickers and boost rescue efforts.

Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said as many as 900 people may have died in Sunday’s disaster off the coast of Libya when a large boat capsized. That would be the highest death toll in recent times among migrants, who are trafficked in the tens of thousands in rickety vessels across the Mediterranean.

EU ministers held a moment of silence at a meeting to discuss the crisis in Luxembourg. The bloc’s executive, the European Commission, presented a ten-point plan to address the crisis, which would include doubling the size and the funding of “Triton”, an EU naval operation in the Mediterranean.

But even that would leave the operation smaller and less well-funded than an Italian mission abandoned last year due to costs and domestic opposition to sea rescues that could attract even more migrants.

“SLAVERY”

Italy and Malta were working to rescue another two boats carrying an estimated 400 people off the coast of Libya on Monday. Hundreds of kilometers to the east, coast guardsmen were struggling

Rhodes.

The Greek coast guard said at least three people were killed there. Television pictures showed survivors clinging to floating debris while rescuers pulled them from the waves.

Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi compared the smuggling of migrants across the Mediterranean to the African slave trade of centuries ago. “When we say we are in the presence of slavery, we are not using the word just for effect,” he said.

Following an investigation launched after hundreds of migrants drowned near the Italian island of Lampedusa in 2013, prosecutors in Palermo on Monday announced they had arrested 24 suspected traffickers suspected of organizing the transport of thousands of Ethiopians and Eritreans to Italy.

However, it was not yet clear whether they had any connection with the latest disaster.

“The investigations are continuing and we will see if there is any responsibility for the latest incidents,” Palermo police chief Guido Longo told reporters.

Among those named in the investigation were an Ethiopian and an Eritrean based in Libya who were suspected of being two of the key figures profiting from the so-called “Libyan route”. They were not among those arrested.

European officials are struggling to come up with a policy to respond more humanely to an exodus of migrants traveling by sea from Africa and Asia to Europe, without worsening the crisis by encouraging more to leave.

“Search and rescue alone is not a silver bullet,” said German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere. “If you just organize search and rescue, criminals who get the refugees on board will send more boats.”

Nevertheless, Chancellor Angela Merkel said that alongside efforts to fight trafficking, more should be done to save those at sea: “We will do everything to prevent further victims from perishing in the most agonizing way on our doorstep.”

The vessel overturned and sank off the coast of Libya on Sunday, apparently after passengers rushed to one side to attract attention from a passing merchant ship.

A Bangladeshi survivor told police there had been 950 passengers onboard, many locked into the hold and lower deck. However, Catania Chief Prosecutor Giovanni Salvi, who is conducting a homicide investigation into the case, said the figure needed to be treated with caution.

In the Maltese capital of Valletta, coast guard officers brought ashore 24 corpses found so far. Wearing white protective suits, they carried the victims in body bags off the Italian ship Gregoretti and deposited them in hearses as survivors looked on from the deck.

Twenty-seven survivors rescued so far arrived in the Sicilian port of Catania late on Monday. Another survivor was earlier taken to a Catania hospital by helicopter.

In Greece, more than 90 people were rescued from the boat wrecked off the coast of Rhodes: “We have recovered three bodies so far – that of a man, a woman and a child,” a coast guard official said.

Among those calling for more compassion from Europe were the United Nations human rights chief and Pope Francis.

“This is a humanitarian emergency that involves us all,” the IOM’s Italy Director Federico Soda said, calling for a mission equivalent to the Italian operation to be relaunched immediately.

LIBYA CHAOS

If the toll is confirmed in Sunday’s tragedy, as many as 1,800 migrants will have died so far trying to cross the Mediterranean since the start of this year. The IOM estimates around 21,000 have made the voyage successfully.

In comparison, by the end of April 2014, fewer than 100 had died out of an estimated 26,000 who crossed.

The number of migrants normally surges in the summer, meaning far greater numbers are likely to attempt the voyage in the coming months. In total last year, 174,000 made the journey successfully and around 3,200 died.

The IOM says hundreds of thousands of people could be planning to attempt the crossing from Libya, now in a lawless state with two competing governments at war with each other and both incapable of policing people-smuggling gangs.

Renzi said a military operation in Libya was not on the table, while Malta’s Muscat said the United Nations should mandate a force to fight human traffickers in Libya.

Human rights group Amnesty International said Thursday’s summit would be a litmus test of Europe’s commitment to save lives in the Mediterranean, calling for a robust rescue mission.

Bernard Ryan, professor of migration law at Leicester University, told Reuters: “It’s a myth to think there’s some other solution”.

Last week around 400 migrants were reported to have died attempting to reach Italy from Libya when their boat capsized.

Northern EU countries have so far largely left rescue operations to southern states, such as Italy. According to the IOM, Italian coast guard, navy and commercial ships had rescued 10,000 migrants in the Mediterranean in the past few days.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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World

EU and UK zone in on possible breakthrough

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EU and UK zone in on possible breakthrough | The Thaiger

British and European negotiators headed back into intense negotiations on a draft Brexit deal after late-night talks brought them closer but so far fails to confirm an elusive breakthrough.

Reports that Britain has softened its stance on the customs status of Northern Ireland in order to clinch an accord at this week’s European summit had raised hopes that a chaotic “no-deal Brexit” can be avoided and is driving the pound higher.

But a marathon overnight negotiating session in the EU’s Brussels headquarters brought them to the eve of the meeting with still some distance to go to agree the wording of a treaty to govern the terms of Britain’s October 31 departure from the bloc.

“The teams worked into the night and continue to make progress. The teams will meet again this morning,” a UK official said, describing the talks as “constructive”. He and EU officials said the teams would get back to work at around 9am.

A senior European diplomat told AFP that the negotiators had begun to transcribe the British offer into a legal text that could eventually go before the 28 EU national leaders on Thursday at their European Council summit which begins on Thursday.

But there remain some important differences, he cautioned, while a European official, speaking on condition of anonymity as closed-door negotiations continue, played down hopes that any text would be finalised Wednesday.

Even if a text is prepared for the leaders this week – or if, as many observers in Brussels expect, an extraordinary summit is called later – any deal would have to be approved by a skeptical British parliament, which holds a special session on Saturday.

By agreeing to a form of customs boundary in the Irish Sea, Britain could allow its province of Northern Ireland to remain under EU rules, prevent a return to a hard land border with EU member Ireland and salvage a negotiated withdrawal.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson may struggle to convince hardline Conservative eurosceptic MPS and his allies from Northern Ireland’s loyalist Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to accept this concession — less than three weeks before Britain is due to leave the EU.

Nevertheless, EU negotiator Michel Barnier and British Brexit minister Stephen Barclay judged that a deal was close enough to justify officials working into the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Barnier had said a text must be on the table by Wednesday if member state governments are to have a chance to consider it before the summit, because the 28 national leaders have no plans to themselves debate the details of the agreement.

But if, as now seems likely, the Wednesday deadline is missed, officials said talks could instead resume next week and a special summit be called just in time for Johnson to fulfil his pledge to lead Britain out of the bloc on October 31.

European leaders warn they will not let Britain use Northern Ireland as a back door to the single market and Barnier said Tuesday that “it is high time to turn good intentions into legal text.”

Yesterday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel outlined why EU officials are driving a hard bargain and hoping Britain will commit to a “level playing field” in post-Brexit trade and commerce.

“One thing is clear, Britain will develop into another competitor on the doorstep of Europe. And therefore the EU will be challenged to become more competitive and to assume geopolitical responsibility.”

Glimmers of hope

“The last moment is always a bit later than you think,” one German government official told AFP, suggesting Brexit would have to be postponed beyond the end of the month if talks are to reach a successful conclusion.

More than three years after Britain’s 2016 referendum vote to leave the European bloc, talks remain stuck on how to avoid customs checks on the border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland.

The EU has reservations about London’s proposed customs arrangements and the role for Northern Ireland’s Stormont assembly in giving consent to the plans.

In London, DUP leader Arlene Foster told the BBC that she wanted to support a deal, but would not do so if she felt it divided Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK and added that without her party’s support “everybody knows” it would not pass in parliament.

If no deal is reached by Saturday, Johnson will fall foul of a British law demanding he ask the EU to postpone Brexit for a third time rather than risk a potentially disastrous “no deal” departure.

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

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Myanmar

Burmese surfing team head to SEAsia Games, a first for Myanmar

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Burmese surfing team head to SEAsia Games, a first for Myanmar | The Thaiger

PHOTO: Burmese surfer Thwe Thwe Soe practicing off the coast of Ngwe Saung – Myanmore

Paddling hard and smiling, Thwe Thwe Soe flung herself up on the board just as a wave was breaking, spreading her arms out for balance before getting knocked off.

“I can’t live without surfing. I did not expect to be chosen for the national team but I’m thrilled at the opportunity.”

Thwe Thwe Soe was speaking after a day in the blue waters off the small coastal resort town of Ngwe Saung. Competitive surfing was barely known in Myanmar a few years ago but one local beach town is riding a wave of enthusiasm to the Southeast Asia Games for the first time ever.

The Southeast Asian country is flanked by surf-ready coasts to the west and south, but decades of military rule, lack of equipment and poverty kept aspiring athletes from testing the waters. The 25 year old encountered the sport while studying in southern California and has been hooked since, saying she “always feels happy” on the water.

Now she is going up against the region’s giants at the December games in the Philippines. Thwe Thwe Soe has one of the best chances to medal among the handful of surfers going, but all are training hard.

“We surf for at least four to six hours a day,” said American coach Robert Brickell, a 26 year old originally from New York.

The mild waves at Ngwe Saung present a paradox for competitive surfers – they are good to learn on but much tamer than the conditions in surfing hotspots. The team went to Bali in Indonesia for two months to get used to some “big wave surfing” and have made enormous strides in a short amount of time, Brickell said.

“My hope is that we can show everybody that people from Myanmar, we know how to surf, we know how to respect the ocean. And of course our hope is to win some meets.”

The Surf Association of Myanmar was established only this year. The sport is slowly gaining prominence thanks to the impassioned surfers, most from a village near the beach and newcomers themselves. Ngwe Saung is the heartland of the growing craze and has now hosted several competitions.

“We hadn’t heard of surfing before 2017. It will be a difficult competition but we will do our best for sure.” said 19 year old Aung Min Naing.

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

Burmese surfing team head to SEAsia Games, a first for Myanmar | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: Aspiring new Burmese surfer, Aung Min Naing – MMTimes.com

Burmese surfing team head to SEAsia Games, a first for Myanmar | News by The Thaiger

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Entertainment

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival

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The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | The Thaiger

On the streets, in parks and garages, seven Cuban youngsters spent seven months practising K-pop moves to secure a spot on their dream stage: an appearance in South Korea to imitate their idols. 13 final teams from 80 countries are competing in the 2019 event.

At the grandly titled and government-funded Changwon K-pop World Festival contestants from around the globe perform imitation dances or sing cover versions of the genre’s biggest hits, with thousands of fans cheering them on.

In terms of global heft, South Korea is overshadowed by its much larger neighbours China and Japan, but the event is a way for Seoul to derive soft power from one of the country’s biggest cultural exports. In terms of pop-power, South Korea’s K-Pop is now a recognised world-wide music phenomenon with bands like BTS and Blackpink figuring amongst the other big-hitters on the Billboard charts and outselling their western counterparts with millions of albums and downloads.

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

Finalists for this year

Cuba’s Communist government is one of North Korea’s few remaining allies: when President Miguel Diaz-Canel, successor to the Castro brothers Fidel and Raul, visited Pyongyang last November he was only the third foreign head of state to do so since leader Kim Jong Un inherited power in 2011.

But rather than geopolitics, Havana performer Karel Rodriguez Diaz – whose mannerisms and sleek hairstyle could easily be mistaken for those of a K-pop star – is more motivated by high-tempo beats and superslick dance moves.

“We never had a place with a mirror or a choreographer who could teach us the steps” but they kept on practising, he said.

His team-mate Elio Gonzalez added: “We are so excited to represent not just Cuba but also the whole of Latin America.”

Some 6,400 teams from more than 80 countries entered the competition, according to organisers, with 13 groups from places as diverse as Kuwait and Madagascar winning through to the final in Changwon, where they appeared on stage waving their national flags.

“This is like watching the Olympics, a K-pop Olympics,” said the event’s host Lia, a member of K-pop group ITZY.

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

The Korean Wave

K-pop – along with K-drama soap operas – has been one of South Korea’s most successful cultural exports to date. A key part of the “Korean Wave” which has swept Asia and beyond in the last 20 years, the K-pop industry is now estimated to be worth $5 billion, with boyband BTS its latest high-profile exponent, becoming the world’s most successful band in the past 12 months, selling out stadium concerts within minutes, around the world.

The South Korean government has financed a variety of K-pop themed events in what CedarBough Saeji, a visiting professor at Indiana University Bloomington in the US, said was a form of long-term “soft power diplomacy”.

“When you are covering you get to ‘become’ those idols for the three and a half minutes of the song,” she said, adding that performers will go so far as matching their clothing, accessories and hairstyle to their heroes and heroines.

“The cover dancers of today will be diplomats, news reporters, and business leaders in forty years,” she went on.

“And hopefully they’ll still have a soft spot in their heart for Korea. Korea can’t win the world through hard power – armies, economic bullying – but with soft power even a small country like Korea has a chance.”

The music also provides an artistic alternative for overseas fans, especially those in developing countries, Saeji added.

“The West, especially the United States, has been so dominant culturally for so long, and having a different cultural pole to look to provides hope that one’s own country can experience similar success in the future.”

The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival | News by The Thaiger

Be who you want

Beneath its glitz and glamour, the K-pop industry is also known for its cutthroat competition, a lack of privacy, online bullying and relentless public pressure to maintain a wholesome image at all times and at any cost.

Sulli, a popular K-pop star and former child actress who had long been the target of abusive online comments was found dead on Monday, with her death sending shockwaves through fans around the world.

“I think a day where (people) would be ashamed of the K-show business will surely come,” a South Korean online user wrote in the wake of the star’s death.

“I think an industry that makes money by (making people) sing, dance, undergo plastic surgeries and go on a diet to please the gaze of others since they are teenagers should really go bankcrupt.”

But for Kenny Pham, a finalist from the US at last week’s contest, K-pop’s diversity – with some tunes having dark themes, while others were “cute” or sensual – is what gives him a sense of liberation.

“I like how expressive you could be,” the 19 year old told AFP last week.

“I feel like it’s a place where you could show the passion you have for music, dance or fashion. No one is bashing you for what your likes are.”

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

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