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Ukraine separatists down army helicopter, 14 killed

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Ukraine separatists down army helicopter, 14 killed
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Pro-Russian separatists shot down a Ukrainian army helicopter on Thursday, killing 14 soldiers including a general, as government forces pressed ahead with an offensive to crush rebellions in the east swiftly following the election of a new president.

After weeks of accusations from Kiev of Russian involvement in the uprising, a rebel leader in the eastern city of Donetsk acknowledged that some of his fighters who died in the government offensive had been “volunteers” from Russia, saying their bodies were being returned home across the border.

In Kiev, acting president Oleksander Turchinov said the helicopter, which had been carrying supplies in eastern Ukraine, had been brought down by anti-aircraft fire from near the town of Slaviansk, which has been under the control of separatists since early April.

It was one of the heaviest losses inflicted by the separatists on the army in two months of unrest in Ukraine’s eastern regions, and followed a fierce assault by government forces in which 50 or so rebels were killed earlier this week.

“I have just received information that terrorists using Russian anti-aircraft missiles shot down our helicopter near Slaviansk. It had been ferrying servicemen for a change of duty,” Turchinov told parliament.

The bodies of some of the separatists killed this week when the Ukrainian military tried to regain control of Donetsk international airport were being prepared for return to Russia on Thursday, the rebel leader said.

In a stark admission that the rebels were being supported by Russian militia fighters, the leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Denis Pushilin, said: “Those who are volunteers from Russia will be taken to Russia today.”

Interior minister Arsen Avakov accused the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin of being behind the airport violence. Weapons collected at the airport after the rebels were forced out by airstrikes and a paratroop assault had been brought in from Russia, he said.

“These are not our weapons – they were brought from Russia. Serial numbers, year of production, specific models … I am publishing this photograph as proof of the aggression of the Putin regime,” Avakov wrote on his Facebook page.

Kiev’s leaders have long asserted that Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March, has fomented the separatist rebellions in the east of Ukraine with a view to bringing about dismemberment of the country.

Moscow denies this but they also allege that it is failing to stop Russian fighters from crossing the long land border into Ukraine together with truckloads of guns and live ammunition. (Full Story)

Defence Minister Mikhailo Koval said on Thursday: “We have put all our forces and equipment into the anti-terrorist operation. We have covered the whole state border.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday accused the West of pushing Ukraine into “the abyss of fratricidal war”, and reiterated his call for an end to Kiev’s military offensive.

FIERCE ASSAULT

The assault launched last Monday was the first time Kiev has unleashed its full military force against the fighters after weeks of restraint and came the day after Ukrainians overwhelmingly elected Petro Poroshenko as president.

Poroshenko, 48, a billionaire confectionary magnate who became the first Ukrainian since 1991 to win the presidency outright in a single round of voting, marked his clear victory by calling for a swift and effective offensive to crush the eastern rebellions.

Though he is unlikely to be inaugurated before June 7, Poroshenko will have an opportunity to meet Putin when both attend commemorations of the 70th anniversary of World War Two’s “D-Day” landings in Normandy on June 6. On June 3, Poroshenko is also expected to have talks with U.S. President Barack Obama in Warsaw.

The separatist authorities say those who died on Monday and Tuesday included a truckload of wounded fighters blasted apart as they were driven away from the battlefield. The government said it suffered no losses in the operation, when its aircraft strafed the airport and paratroops landed to reclaim it.

At Donetsk’s Kalinin morgue, where the dead from the violence were taken, 30 coffins were laid out in rows on Thursday.

“Yes. They’re going to Russia,” said an orthodox priest, who was edgy and did not wish to be named.

In another part of the morgue lay a local man, 43-year-old Mark Zverev, who had also been killed in the airport fighting. “Europe should know what is happening. He’s not a terrorist. He is a defender of his home, of his people and of his land,” said his mother, clutching his portrait.

A separatist leader in another part of the region acknowledged his men were holding four monitors from the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) who went missing in eastern Ukraine on Monday.

Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, whose group controls Slaviansk, said the OSCE had been warned not to travel in the area, but had sent a four-man team out all the same. He said they would be released soon.

The OSCE sent in about 300 observers to monitor compliance of an international accord for de-escalating the crisis in troubled eastern Ukraine, where separatists have seized control of strategic points in several towns.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Tourism

Most travel-friendly passport list 2021 revealed

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Most travel-friendly passport list 2021 revealed | Thaiger
FILE PHOTO: Japan tops the list of most travel-friendly passports.

The Henley Passport Index, which rates what passports are the most travel-friendly, has just released the list for 2021, with Japan once again topping the list. The Index commented that this international travel freedom comparison is mostly theoretical since Covid-19 has severely limited most travel worldwide. With a Japanese passport, travellers can enter 193 countries without a visa or with a visa-on-arrival. On the other end of the list, Afghanistan can only get into 26 countries. The gap of 167 countries is the widest gap since the Henley Passport Index began tracking this data 15 years ago in 2006.

Singapore kept its second-place standing with just one less destination than Japan, followed by Germany and South Korea tied for 3rd place with 191 destinations. The rest of the top 10 are mainly European countries, with the exception of New Zealand and the US as part of the 5-way tie for 7th place with 187 destinations, and Australia and Canada tied for 9th place with 185 destinations.

The United States and the United Kingdom took a tumble, once tied for the most travel-friendly passport in 2014, now losing ground slipping to 7th. On the other hand, United Arab Emirates strengthened diplomatic ties worldwide and jumped 50 spots this year from 65th all the way to 15th. Over the decade, the climb is even more dramatic, with the Emirates exploding from 67 destinations 10 years ago up 107 destinations to 174 this year. China did well also, climbing 22 places since 2011, up to number 68 on the list.

Thailand’s passport is tied with Saudi Arabia at 66th with 79 destinations available without an advance visa.

The full 2021 top 10 list:
1. Japan (193 destinations)
2. Singapore (192)
3. Germany, South Korea (191)
4. Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain (190)
5. Austria, Denmark (189)
6. France, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden (188)
7. Belgium, New Zealand, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States (187)
8. Czech Republic, Greece, Malta, Norway (186)
9. Australia, Canada (185)
10. Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia (183)

Henley and Partners predict that the spread in passport access will mirror Covid-19 affected travel. Rich and mobile regions like the US, UK, EU and UAE are getting access to vaccination, hastening their ability to travel, while poorer and developing economies are experiencing a much slower vaccine roll-out. Experts from Syracuse University, the University of Pittsburgh, and the Migration Policy Centre predict this trend will continue with potentially devastating long-term effects.

Countries that can afford and facilitate vaccination for their citizens quickly will be able to welcome travellers in for tourism and business and be able to travel more themselves. Conversely, countries that can’t afford the storage and distribution of vaccines will be less able to travel or welcome tourism income, widening a global wealth gap. Remote working and the digital nomad lifestyle has been booming in recent years and with Covid-19 forcing businesses to adapt to telecommuting, the post-pandemic world will see more remote working, and countries falling behind with vaccinations will suffer the long-term loss in tourism dollars too.

SOURCE: CNN

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World

The Queen sits as a lonely figure as she bids farewell to her husband Prince Philip

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The Queen sits as a lonely figure as she bids farewell to her husband Prince Philip | Thaiger
PHOTO: VOA news

Prince Philip was laid to rest Saturday afternoon, UK time, in a simple but soulful funeral ceremony honouring his lifetime of service to the UK, the Commonwealth and his wife of 73 years, Queen Elizabeth II.

Clad in black, her head bowed in prayer, the elderly monarch set an example for the UK community during the Covid pandemic, socially distancing herself from the rest of her family.

Prince Philip died just 2 months short of his 100th birthday – some reflected that he was just 2 months away from receiving a telegram from his wife.

The service at Windsor Castle was light on pageantry but steeped in military and royal traditions. The whole pre-funeral procession and service was held away from the public eye, entirely within the grounds of Windsor Castle, but a full live stream of the proceedings was shown on UK TV and internet services.

Instead of the expected nearly 1,000 mourners, there was a mere 30 allowed inside the grounds of the castle to take part in the procession and service, although there was a larger entourage of socially-distanced musicians, camera-people, guards and organisers on site.

Attending were Prince Charles his wife Camilla, Prince Andrew, Prince William and his wife Kate, and Prince Harry, who had returned from the US without his pregnant wife Meghan. The Queen and Prince Philip’s other children, and grandchildren, were also in attendance.

The most poignant image from the entire ceremony was the lone figure of Queen Elizabeth, entirely in black with a black face mask and hat, a very human and frail figure who spent the entire service buried in deep contemplation, rarely raising her head to watch the proceedings. Whilst the service was all about remembering the service and duty of her consort, Prince Philip, there were few who wouldn’t have been thinking of the 94 year old woman sitting all alone, grieving the loss of her husband.

Britain officially observed 1 minute of silence in honour of Prince Philip just before the funeral started.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s coffin arrived at the chapel in a modified Land Rover conceived by the prince. Known for his sense of humour and off-the-cuff one-liners (that often got him into hot water), the arrival of his own coffin in an army-green pick-up truck was his final poke at the outrageous pageantry he often shied away from.

His coffin was draped in his personal standard with his Royal Navy cap, sword and a wreath of flowers sitting atop.

Prince Philip was placed in the vault along with the remains of 24 other royals, including 3 kings of England. But following the Queen’s death, the pair are expected to be buried in the Royal Burial Ground on the Frogmore Estate close to Windsor Castle.

Along with Philip’s children and grandchildren, the 30 funeral guests included other senior royals and several of his German relatives. Philip was born a prince of Greece and Denmark and, like the queen, is related to mash-up of European royal families.

The two sons of Price Charles and Princess Diana, William and Harry, were seen walking together after the service and chatting as mourners were leaving the chapel.

The Queen sits as a lonely figure as she bids farewell to her husband Prince Philip | News by Thaiger

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Grim milestone: 3 million Covid-19 deaths worldwide

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Grim milestone: 3 million Covid-19 deaths worldwide | Thaiger
PHOTO: 3 million Covid-19 deaths recorded around the world.

Today marks a grim milestone as the Covid-19 pandemic officially crosses 3 million deaths around the world, with outbreaks still surging in various parts of the world. Over a year into the pandemic, and we are currently seeing over 700,000 new infections and 12,000 deaths per day, with Brazil, India, and France facing growing crises.

The 3 million figure reflects official numbers, though many suspect that real totals could be much higher, pointing at government conspiracies and early deaths that were not attributed to Covid-19 when little was known about the novel coronavirus in the early days.

Still, the official number is overwhelming enough – equal to the population of Kyiv, Ukraine, or the state of Arkansas in the US, and larger than world cities like Lisbon, Caracas, Dubai, Manchester or Chicago. Imagine nearly one-third of the people in Bangkok wiped out, or the entire nation of Armenia or Jamaica.

Following a steep decline in both new infections and deaths at the start of this year, the graph is again in an upward trajectory, both in terms of new cases and deaths from Covid.

Grim milestone: 3 million Covid-19 deaths worldwide | News by ThaigerThe World Health Organisation laments the dire condition of the world dealing with the pandemic after 16 months and so many opportunities to prevent the spread with basic safety precautions. Brazil has spiralled out of control, racking up 3,000 deaths a day, nearly 25% of all the Covid-19 deaths in the world in the past few weeks. New variants have been spreading like wildfire throughout Brazil as more dangerous strains have wriggled their way into countries around the world.

In India, the distribution of vaccines has been thwarted by swelling Covid-19 outbreaks and deaths. In New Dehli, 13,000 infections were reported in a day amongst the 29 million residents, but the city only has 178 ventilators available as of Wednesday.

Only 1.1% of the Indian populations has been vaccinated, and officials faced criticism of their vaccine exports while so many need jabs domestically. In Thailand, the percentage of people vaccinated is even lower.

700 million vaccines have been distributed worldwide, but they have been shipped disproportionately to the wealthier populations throughout the world. In rich countries, 1 in 4 people have been vaccinated, while in poor countries that number is less than 1 in 500. In fact, 87% of the vaccines distributed worldwide have been to wealthy nations, and the delays in India due to increasing Covid-19 deaths will not help close that gap for many months to come.

SOURCE: Sky

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