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Ukraine rebels free Swedish hostage; Obama seeks unity against Russia

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Ukraine rebels free Swedish hostage; Obama seeks unity against Russia | The Thaiger

PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

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

Ukraine rebels free Swedish hostage; Obama seeks unity against Russia
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine freed a Swedish observer on Sunday, but said they had no plans to release seven other European monitors they have been holding for three days.

On the eve of an expected announcement of a mild tightening of Western sanctions against a targeted list of Russians, U.S. President Barack Obama called for the United States and Europe to join forces to impose stronger measures to restrain Moscow.

In Donetsk, where pro-Russian rebels have proclaimed an independent “people’s republic”, armed fighters seized the headquarters of regional television and ordered it to start broadcasting a Russian state TV channel.

Washington and Brussels are expected, possibly as early as Monday, to add new people and firms close to Russian President Vladimir Putin to a small list of those hit by punitive measures. But they have yet to reach a consensus on imposing wider sanctions that would hurt Russia’s economy more generally.

Speaking during a visit to Malaysia, Obama said the impact of any decision over wider sanctions would depend on whether the United States and its allies could find a unified position.

“We’re going to be in a stronger position to deter Mr. Putin when he sees that the world is unified and the United States and Europe is unified rather than this is just a U.S.-Russian conflict,” Obama told reporters.

The stand-off over Ukraine, an ex-Soviet republic of about 45 million people, has dragged relations between Russia and the West to their lowest level since the end of the Cold War.

After Ukrainians overthrew a pro-Russian president, Putin overturned decades of international diplomacy last month by announcing the right to use military force on his neighbour’s territory. He has seized and annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and massed tens of thousands of troops on the frontier.

Heavily armed pro-Russian gunmen have seized buildings in towns and cities across eastern Ukraine. Kiev and its Western allies say the uprising is directed by Russian agents. Moscow denies it is involved and says the uprising is a spontaneous reaction to oppression of Russian speakers by Kiev.

An international agreement reached this month calls on rebels to vacate occupied buildings, but Obama said Russia had not “lifted a finger” to push its allies to comply.

“In fact, there’s strong evidence that they’ve been encouraging the activities in eastern and southern Ukraine.”

PRISONERS

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe has sent unarmed monitors to try to encourage compliance with the peace deal. The pro-Russian rebels seized eight European monitors three days ago and have been holding them at their most heavily-fortified redoubt in the town of Slaviansk.

One of them was permitted to leave on Sunday after OSCE negotiators arrived to discuss their release. The freed man got into an OSCE-marked car and drove away. A separatist spokeswoman said the prisoner, a Swede, had been let go on medical grounds, but there were no plans to free the rest.

The captives were shown to reporters on Sunday and said they were in good health.

“We have no indication when we will be sent home to our countries,” Colonel Axel Schneider told reporters as armed men in camouflage fatigues and balaclavas looked on. “We wish from the bottom of our hearts to go back to our nations as soon and as quickly as possible.”

The observers, from Germany, Denmark, Poland and the Czech Republic as well as Sweden, were accused by their captors of spying for NATO and using the OSCE mission as a cover.

The OSCE, a European security body, includes Russia as well as NATO members, and its main Ukraine mission was approved by Moscow, although the Europeans held in Slaviansk were on a separate OSCE-authorised mission that did not require Russia’s consent. Western countries say Russia should do more to prevail upon their pro-Russian captors to free the men.

Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, the rebel leader who has declared himself mayor of Slaviansk, has described them as prisoners of war and said the separatists were prepared to exchange them for fellow rebels in Ukrainian custody.

Washington is more hawkish on further sanctions than some of its European allies, which has caused a degree of impatience among some U.S. officials. Many European countries are worried about the risks of imposing tougher sanctions: the EU has more than 10 times as much trade with Russia as the United States and imports about a quarter of its natural gas from Russia.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in coming days there would be “an expansion of existing sanctions, measures against individuals or entities in Russia”.

RUSSIA! RUSSIA!

At the Donetsk television headquarters, about 400 pro-Russian demonstrators chanted “Russia! Russia!” and “Referendum!” – a call for a vote like one in Crimea that preceded its annexation by Russia last month. Four separatists in masks controlled access at the entrance, and more masked gunmen in camouflage fatigues could be seen inside.

Oleg Dzholos, the station’s director, who came outside to speak to reporters, said the people who seized the building had ordered him to change the programming.

“They used force to push back the gates,” he said. “There were no threats. There were not many of my people. What can a few people do? The leaders of this movement just gave me an ultimatum that one of the Russian channels has to be broadcast.”

Ponomaryov, the rebel leader in Slaviansk, said his men had captured three officers with Ukraine’s state security service who, he said, had been mounting an operation against separatists in the nearby town of Horlivka.

The Russian television station Rossiya 24 showed footage it said was of a colonel, a major and a captain. They were shown seated, with their hands behind their backs, blindfolded, and wearing no trousers. At least two had bruises on their faces.

Ukraine’s State Security Service said the three had been part of a unit which went to Horlivka to arrest a suspect in the murder of Volodymyr Rybak, a pro-Kiev councillor whose body was found last week in a river near Slaviansk.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Tourism

Saudi Arabia eases visa restrictions for US and European visitors

May Taylor

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Saudi Arabia eases visa restrictions for US and European visitors | The Thaiger

PHOTO: aawsat.com

American and European passport holders, along with those from most Asian countries, can now apply for Saudi Arabian tourist visas either online or on arrival, provided they meet certain criteria.

Prior to this, the only foreigners allowed to visit Saudi Arabia were usually those travelling on business, resident workers and their family members, or Muslim pilgrims on pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina.

In an attempt to boost tourism and diversify the economy’s reliance on oil, the Kingdom has expanded the availability of tourist visas beyond what was initially 49 countries. Visitors from eligible countries no longer need to apply for a visa at an overseas Saudi embassy but can do so online or on arrival.

The multiple-entry visa costs approximately US$120, is valid for a year, and permits a stay of up to 3 months on each entry.

However, authorities in the Kingdom were quick to implement a public decency code following the visa announcement.

“Immodest dress and public displays of affection are banned, but foreign men and women may rent hotel rooms together without having to prove they are married.”

A strict ban on alcohol remains in place.

Last weekend the South Korean band BTS became the first foreigners to hold a solo concert in the Kingdom, allowing teenage and older woman to attend without a male escort and allowing them to dance and sing along (in Korean of course). The band, in turn, turned down some of their ‘ab flashing’ and physicality during their record-breaking “Love Yourself” stadium concert in Riyadh.

The septet were invited to perform in Saudi Arabia as part of the Kingdom’s attempts to become more open to foreigners and diversify their income away from oil production.

SOURCE: Reuters

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Opinion

Buddhists call for boycott of Hilton & Waldorf Astoria Hotels with the opening of Siddhartha Lounge

The Thaiger

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Buddhists call for boycott of Hilton & Waldorf Astoria Hotels with the opening of Siddhartha Lounge | The Thaiger

OPINION: The Buddhist Times

Since its creation in 1996, Buddha-Bar Paris has been using the name and image of Buddha in it’s Bars and Hotels throughout the world. Typically the franchises use large statues of Buddha in their Bars and around dance floors and in restaurants similar to a Buddhist temple.

What makes the use of Buddha’s image in these bars most insulting to Buddhists around the world is that Buddhism does not support the consumption of alcohol. So to use the Buddha’s image as decoration to promote the consumption and sale of alcohol and as a prop on dance floors and in restaurants is especially disrespectful and hurtful to Buddhists.

Now comes a further insult with the Buddha-Bar franchise opening the Siddhartha Lounge at Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah. (Siddhartha Gautama being the full name of Buddha).

According to the Knowing Buddha Organisation in Thailand what the Buddha-Bar franchise is doing is not only disrespectful but it is immoral. The foundation points out that “Respect is Common Sense”.

Buddhists feel hurt by the misuse of the name and image of their father, as people of other faiths would be if the image of Christ or Mohammad were used to promote bars and nightclubs.

The Buddha–Bar, restaurant, and hotel franchise created by French-Romanian restaurateur Raymond Vișan and DJ and interior designer Claude Challe, with its original location having opened in Paris, France in 1996.

Raymond Vișan, according to Wikipedia, had the idea of establishing the chain of restaurants and bars which came from his fascination with the Orient. However at the age of 60 Visan suddenly died of terminal cancer. The franchise was continued by co-founder Claude Challe and Vișan’s wife Tarja, who took over the reins of the Buddha Bar franchise upon Vișan death.

Critics of the Vișan’s and Claude Challe say that these self described artists and creators have created nothing but bad Karma and Sin for themselves. They suggest that Buddha-Bar franchise is a form of “grotesque Plagiarism ” which has merely hi-jacked a 2500 year old religion, using the name and image of Buddha, who imparts peace, compassion and loving kindness, for the purpose of selling alcohol and making money. As any case of plagiarism it is expected that Buddha-Bar and Waldorf Astoria will soon find them selves in the courts say Buddhims advocats.

Buddhist around the world are calling the Boycotting of Waldorf Astoria Hotels Hilton Hotels, Buddha-Bars and the music of Claude Challe, demanding that they stop using the image of Buddha and instead creat their own brand.

The views expressed in this editorial do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of The Thaiger or its staff

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Hong Kong

1000s flock to Hong Kong’s Chater Garden for pro-democracy rally

May Taylor

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1000s flock to Hong Kong’s Chater Garden for pro-democracy rally | The Thaiger

PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Last night, Chater Garden, located near government headquarters in the Central district of Hong Kong, was the scene of the city’s first approved rally since the face mask ban came into being about 10 days ago. So far, the face mask ban has been largely ineffectual.

A day after an explosive device was detonated during protests, tens of thousands of demonstrators assembled in the park. They were calling on Washington to approve proposed US legislation that could see some Chinese officials face sanctions.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act aims to review the territory’s special trading status and sanction those responsible for undermining the rights of Hong Kong citizens. It passed through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee late last month.

The Chinese Government has responded angrily, accusing the US of “interfering in China’s internal affairs” with the aim of harming its interests, and says the law will only serve to worsen the situation in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong has been the scene of often violent pro-democracy protests for over four months now, as its citizens call for greater democracy and less interference from Beijing.

SOURCE: The Nation

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