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US admits it killed US, Italian hostages

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

US admits it killed US, Italian hostages
Reuters / Phuket Gazette


PHUKET: A U.S. drone strike in January targeting an al Qaeda compound in Pakistan near the Afghan border inadvertently killed an American and an Italian who had been held hostage for years by the group, U.S. officials said on Thursday.

President Barack Obama apologized and took “full responsibility” for all counterterrorism operations, including this one.

The deaths were a setback for the long-running U.S. drone strike program that has targeted Islamist militants in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere, and has often drawn criticism in those countries and from civil liberties groups in the United States.

Killed in the January drone strike were aid workers Warren Weinstein, an American held by al Qaeda since 2011, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian who went missing in Pakistan in 2012, as well as Ahmed Farouq, an American who was an al Qaeda leader, U.S. officials said.

Adam Gadahn, an American al Qaeda member who was charged with treason in the United States, was also killed in a separate strike on another al Qaeda camp five days later, the officials said.

Obama said he had ordered a full review of the matter to ensure such mistakes are not repeated.

“I profoundly regret what happened. On behalf of the United States government, I offer our deepest apologies to the families,” Obama told reporters at the White House.

Republican House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner and other lawmakers called such a review appropriate but steered clear of criticizing the drone program. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Republican who is often a fierce critic of the Democratic president, said Gadahn and Farouq “got what they deserved.”

U.S. officials said the drone strikes occurred inside Pakistan in the conflict-torn border region near Afghanistan. One official said the CIA had observed the compounds over some time but had no idea hostages were present.

Use of unmanned drones, which enable the United States to carry out counterterrorism operations without putting U.S. personnel directly in harm’s way, has prompted criticism because of the deaths of civilians and because on occasion they have involved killing Americans abroad without judicial process.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the government should better follow its own standards before launching drone strikes. “In each of the operations acknowledged today, the U.S. quite literally didn’t know who it was killing,” said Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU’s deputy legal director.

Lo Porto’s mother told reporters in Palermo, Sicily: “I don’t want to talk, leave me alone in my grief.”

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, speaking in Brussels, said, “I have much appreciated the transparency of the United States in taking their responsibilities for what happened and the way Obama communicated what happened.”

U.S. TREATMENT OF HOSTAGES

Weinstein’s wife, Elaine, said her family was devastated by his death. She criticized the U.S. government for “inconsistent and disappointing” assistance during her husband’s years in captivity. Obama said he spoke with her on Wednesday.

Like some other American families whose relatives have been killed over the past year after being held hostage by militants in the Middle East, Elaine Weinstein called for a better U.S. government policy for relaying information to hostages’ families.

“We hope that my husband’s death and the others who have faced similar tragedies in recent months will finally prompt the U.S. Government to take its responsibilities seriously and establish a coordinated and consistent approach to supporting hostages and their families,” she said in a statement.

U.S. congressman John Delaney of Maryland, who has helped the Weinstein family, and other lawmakers said the United States needs to do a better job handling American hostage cases.

Weinstein, 73, was abducted in Lahore, Pakistan, while working as a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Al Qaeda had asked to trade him for members of the group held by the United States.

Weinstein, who lived in Rockville, Maryland, was seen in videos released in May 2012 and December 2013 asking for Obama to intervene on his behalf and saying he was suffering from heart problems and asthma.

On Thursday, yellow ribbons were tied on many trees in his Rockville neighborhood near Washington, D.C. Outside his home, there were vases and bouquets of flowers and clippings of cherry blossoms.

Italian media said Lo Porto, who was from Palermo, was kidnapped three days after arriving in Pakistan to work for a German organization building houses for victims of a 2010 flood. Another man was kidnapped with him but later freed in October 2014 by German special forces.

The White House said the Weinstein and Lo Porto families would receive compensation from the U.S. government.

TREASON CHARGE

An al Qaeda spokesman has said Farouq was the deputy head of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), which tried unsuccessfully last year to hijack a Pakistan warship.

Farouq died in a Jan. 15 drone strike in the Shawwal area of North Waziristan, AQIS said in a video on Twitter on April 12, reported by the SITE monitoring group.

Gadahn was born in Oregon, grew up in California, converted to Islam at 17 and became a spokesman and translator for al Qaeda. He was charged by the United States with treason in 2006, becoming the first person to face such U.S. charges since the World War Two era, according to the Justice Department.

The deaths of Weinstein and Lo Porto were the latest involving Western hostages held by Islamist militants. Islamic State has beheaded journalists and aid workers, while an American woman aid worker it held died in unclear circumstances in February. An American and a South African held by an al Qaeda unit in Yemen died in December in a failed rescue bid by U.S. special forces.

CIA drone strikes in Pakistan have steeply declined from a peak of around 128 in 2010, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which tracks the strikes. There have been seven drone strikes in Pakistan this year, the group said.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Covid-19 deaths surpass 1 million whilst more reports emerge about former patients’ “brain fog”

The Thaiger

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Covid-19 deaths surpass 1 million whilst more reports emerge about former patients’ “brain fog” | The Thaiger

The world’s Covid-19-related deaths has passed the 1 million mark overnight as the the cycle of the world’s lockdowns and re-openings are getting mixed results. As of this morning, Thai time, the number of total deaths has reached 1,002,389, with 4,000-6,000 deaths still being recorded, globally, every day. And rising. On a more positive note, the number of daily deaths continues to level off, even dropping some weeks, as treatments continue to improve and the virus is better understood. At this stage, officially, only 0.42% of the world’s population has so far been infected, according to worldometers.info.

The milestone comes in a week where another report from the UK catalogues the “brain fog” experienced by former Covid-19 sufferers.

Covid-19 deaths surpass 1 million whilst more reports emerge about former patients'
The current hotspots for the virus, now 9 months in circulation, of new daily cases is led by India. Yesterday, India added 82,000+ cases to the world total whilst the US is showing a resurgence in new cases after dropping the average down during August. There is also a resurgence in new cases in parts of Europe, including the UK, which is now recording more new cases than it was at its peak in the first wave in April and May this year. The following graphs records the top 10 countries for new Covid-19 cases recorded yesterday…

Covid-19 deaths surpass 1 million whilst more reports emerge about former patients'

SOURCE: worldometers.info

Both South America and India are showing the highest rates of new cases, in pure numbers, whilst US health authorities are concerned about the latest surge in new cases as the country starts to head into its autumn and cooler weather.

Meanwhile, more former Covid-19 patients, even those who only suffered mild symptoms, continue to report about long-term effects from the coronavirus.

In Canada, some 130,000 Canadians have recovered but some patients report that they’re experiencing “debilitating side effects” months after their infection. Canadian scientists report that they are finding some of the long-term effects of Covid-19 include heart damage as well as neurological issues like “brain fog” and “difficulty thinking”. Other patients are reporting hair loss, fatigue and even painful lesions called “Covid toes,” many weeks or even months after infection.

One study based out of Italy reports that nearly 90% of patients who have recovered from Covid-19 reported at least one persistent symptom two months later.

39 doctors wrote about these “long-haulers” and their battle with Covid-19 and their persistent symptoms in a manifesto published in the British Medical Journal. Following the report, the doctors called on politicians, scientists and public health officials to conduct more research into chronic Covid-19 symptoms and to create additional clinical services.

“Failure to understand the underlying biological mechanisms causing these persisting symptoms risks missing opportunities to identify risk factors, prevent chronicity, and find treatment approaches for people affected now and in the future.”

The reports also defined the affected patients as not in the current list of “at risk” Covid-19 patients – usually elderly with underlying conditions – but instead representing a much wider demographic of younger and healthy patients who were experiencing the post-Covid symptoms.

SOURCE: BBC | CTV News

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

IATA proposes Covid testing before travelling to replace quarantine on arrival

The Thaiger & The Nation

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IATA proposes Covid testing before travelling to replace quarantine on arrival | The Thaiger

The International Air Transport Association is proposing travellers to take a Covid test prior to departure to replace worldwide mandatory quarantines on arrival. The push comes after it announces that international travel is down by 92% this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As many countries are imposing mandatory quarantines that can be not only expensive but up to 14 days long, the IATA is calling for all countries to work together to create a pre-flight testing requirement in all airports.

Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO says that Covid testing is getting faster, cheaper and more accurate, which is why it is urgent to help kick-start the world economy by doing away with mandatory quarantines.

“The key to restoring the freedom of mobility across borders is systematic Covid-19 testing of all travelers before departure. This will give governments the confidence to open their borders without complicated risk models that see constant changes in the rules imposed on travel. Testing all passengers will give people back their freedom to travel with confidence. And that will put millions of people back to work.”

He says the removal of such quarantine requirements for nations like Canada and UK would also help those nationals to leave their countries confidently by knowing that accurate testing would be in place. IATA has also asked for feedback and says of those travellers polled, 65% agree that if a person tests negative for Covid-19, then they should not have to undergo a quarantine on arrival. 84% also agree that, instead, travellers should be required to get tested with 88% even agreeing that they would submit to testing as part of the travel process.

Over 5000 travel businesses have reportedly backed the IATA’s proposal after submitting an open letter to the president of the European Commission, demanding the EU to take action. However, testing and later vaccinating 7.8 billion people could prove to be a monumental task, one that may take months to devise a streamlined plan to carry out.

SOURCE: Travel Off Path

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Economy

Vietnam’s booming manufacturing sector reduced to a trickle as world pandemic kills demand

The Thaiger

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Vietnam’s booming manufacturing sector reduced to a trickle as world pandemic kills demand | The Thaiger

Vietnamese finance officials are downgrading expectations for a recovery of the south east Asian nation’s economy in 2021. The normally fast-growing gross domestic product in 2020 has stalled due to a huge drop in local and global demand, and the absence of international tourism. The booming economy, growing at an average of 6% per year since 2012, will struggle to reach a growth rate of 2% this year.

Fuelled by manufactured exports, the Vietnam economy has dropped back to a trickle. The Asian Development Bank estimates that this year’s GDP growth could be as low as 1.8%. The Vietnamese factories, that usually crank out shoes, garments, furniture and cheap electronics, are seeing dropping demand as the world’s consumer confidence drops dramatically.

Stay-at-home rules in Europe and America are keeping are keeping people away from retail stores. And despite the acceleration of online retail, many of the consumers are emerging from the Covid Spring and Summer with vastly reduced spending power.

The headaches of 2020 are also challenging Vietnam to maintain its reputation as south east Asia’s manufacturing hotspot. Rising costs and xenophobic foreign policy have put China ‘on the nose’ with some governments, complicating factory work in China, whilst other south east Asian countries lack infrastructure and are incurring higher wage costs.

One Vietnamese factory operated by Taiwan-based Pou Chen Group, which produces footwear for top international brands, has laid off 150 workers earlier this year. There are hundreds more examples of the impact of falling demand in the bustling Vietnamese manufacturing economy.

Vietnam’s border closure is also preventing investors from making trips, setting up meetings and pushing projects forward. Those projects in turn create jobs, fostering Vietnam’s growing middle class. Tourism has also been badly affected by the restrictions on travel. “International tourism is dead,” says Jack Nguyen, a partner at Mazars in Ho Chi Minh City.

“Inbound tourism usually makes up 6% of the economy.”

“Things will only pick up only when the borders are open and there’s no quarantine requirements. Who knows when that’s going to be.”

A mid-year COVID-19 outbreak in the coastal resort city Danang followed by the start of the school year has reduced domestic travel, analysts say. Some of the country’s hotels are up for sale as a result.

“Recovery could take 4 years.”

The Vietnamese Ministry of Planning and Investment is now warning that global post-pandemic recovery could take as long as 4 years, perhaps more.

Not that foreign investors in the country are pulling out. Indeed, many are tainge a long-term view that Vietnam’s underlying strengths will outlive Covid-19. Vietnam reports just 1,069 coronavirus cases overall.

SOURCE: VOA News

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