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World News: Face of Bashar al-Assad’s government flees – diplomat

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World News: Face of Bashar al-Assad’s government flees – diplomat | The Thaiger

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

Syrian spokesman flees country: diplomat
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: A Syrian foreign ministry spokesman, who was the most public face of Bashar al-Assad’s government as it battled a 20-month-old uprising, has fled the country, a diplomat in the region said yesterday.

Jihad al-Makdissi, who is in his 40s, previously worked at the Syrian embassy in London and returned to Damascus a year ago to serve as spokesman for the ministry, defending the government’s crackdown on the revolt against Assad’s rule.

He had little influence in a system largely run by the security apparatus and the military. But Assad’s opponents will see the loss of such a high profile figure, if confirmed, as further evidence of a system crumbling from within.

Rebel forces have made advances in recent weeks, seizing military bases including some close to the capital Damascus. Amid talk that troops had moved chemical weapons, U.S. President Barack Obama again warned Assad against using them.

Makdissi belongs to Syria’s Christian minority, which has largely stood behind Assad. He worked with the foreign ministry for 10 years and speaks fluent English, a rarity in a state apparatus shaped by the Baath Party’s anti-Western ideology.

“He defected. All I can say is that he is out of Syria,” the diplomatic source, who did not want to be named, told Reuters.

Lebanon’s al-Manar Television, citing government sources, said Makdissi was sacked for making statements that did not reflect the government’s position.

He was rarely seen in the media in recent weeks. His mobile telephone was switched off and there was no immediate comment in Syrian state media. The pan-Arab news channel Al Arabiya said Makdissi had left Beirut and was on his way to London, where he was expected to remain.

“We’re aware of reports that he has defected and may be coming to the UK. We’re seeking clarification,” a Foreign Office spokeswoman said.

Chemical weapons
Rebels have begun to advance more quickly after months of slow sieges to cut off army routes and supplies. In the past few weeks, they seized several military bases, and are now using anti-aircraft weapons to attack the military helicopters and fighter jets that had bombarded their positions with impunity.

Media reports citing European and U.S. officials said Syria’s chemical weapons had been moved and could be prepared for use in response – long a fear raised by the opposition.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said U.S. concerns about Syria’s intentions regarding the use of chemical weapons were increasing, prompting Washington to make contingency plans.

Syria said it would not use chemical weapons against its own people: “Syria has stressed repeatedly that it will not use these types of weapons, if they were available, under any circumstances against its people,” the foreign ministry said.

Obama, who has steered clear of repeating in Syria the kind of military engagements Washington has seen in Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya, later repeated a warning to Assad – vaguely worded – against using chemical weapons to keep himself in power:

“The world is watching,” Obama said. “The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable and if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons there will be consequences and you will be held accountable.”

Damascus battles
The army appears to have focused most of its energy on Damascus, where rebels have been planning to push into the capital from the surrounding suburbs.

The military has been trying to seal off the city, using heavy bombardment and air raids to try to drive rebels back. Over 56 people were killed around Damascus alone on Sunday, with 200 dead across the country.

Damascus itself has not been free of unrest. Rebel-held southern districts have been bombarded heavily, activists say. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported fierce clashes around the Tishreen military hospital in the northern Barzeh district and a car bomb in the southern area of Tadamon.

Neither side appears to have the upper hand in the fighting around Damascus. A previous attempt by rebels last July to hold ground in the city was crushed, but the fighters fell back into the suburbs and nearby countryside.

Clashes and tensions also remain high around Damascus International Airport and along the airport highway, which has become an on-and-off battleground that forced foreign airlines to suspend flights to Damascus since Thursday evening.

EgyptAir, which tried to resume flights yesterday, had to call back a plane headed to Damascus due to the “bad security situation” around the airport, an airline official said.

The conflict has grown increasingly bloody in recent months, as rebels began to contest Assad’s power around the capital as well as in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. More than 40,000 people have died in the conflict, with hundreds more killed each week.

The United Nations said it was withdrawing “all non-essential international staff” from Syria because of deteriorating security, and was restricting remaining staff to Damascus. It said more armoured vehicles were needed following attacks on humanitarian aid convoys sometimes caught in the crossfire.

A European Union official said the EU was pulling international staff from Damascus because of the security situation and its ambassador to Syria had ended his posting.

— Reuters



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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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Preliminary data suggests ‘similarities’ to Lion Air incident – Ethiopian Airlines crash

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Preliminary data suggests ‘similarities’ to Lion Air incident – Ethiopian Airlines crash | The Thaiger

PHOTO: The ‘black box’ data recorder arrived in Paris last week

Preliminary data analysis from the black boxes of last week’s Ethiopian Airlines plane crash has revealed “similarities” to last October’s Lion Air incident.

Ethiopian Minister of Transport, Dagmawit Moges, says that investigators recovered all relevant data from the data recorders on board the fateful final flight of the Boeing 737 MAX jet.

He did not provide additional details about the alleged “similarities” between the two crashes saying they were “subject to additional investigation. The black box recorders are being evaluated in France after the Ethiopian aviation authorities said they didn’t have the facilities to analyze the data. The recovered recorders were sent to Paris last Thursday.

Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed on March 10, just six minutes after takeoff, killing all 157 people on board. It mimics characteristics of the other Boeing 737 MAX crash six months ago in Jakarta where the pilot and crew reported problems with the flight controls before plummeting to the ground (or the sea in the case of the Jakarta crash).

Similarities between the two incidents, both of which remain under investigation, led aviation authorities around the world to ban the 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 model aircraft.

Investigators suspect the Lion Air crash may have been caused by a combination of software, pilot education of new flight systems (introduced by Boeing), and a faulty angle-of-attack sensor on the outside of the plane that could have transmitted incorrect data.

Boeing’s new Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, special software designed for the new MAX model jets, may have been responsible for forcing the plane’s nose down, over0riding the pilot’s corrections.

The Boeing Chairman and CEO Dennis Muilenburg issued a statement saying the company “continues to support the investigation, and is working with the authorities to evaluate new information as it becomes available.”

He added the company is “finalising its development of a previously announced software update that will address the MCAS flight control law’s behavior in response to erroneous sensor inputs.

Boeing may apply for special permits to flight-test modifications of newly assembled 737 MAX aircraft in U.S. airspace during the worldwide commercial-flight ban of all 737 MAX-family jets.

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Accused Australian killer appears in Christchurch court charged with murder

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Accused Australian killer appears in Christchurch court charged with murder | The Thaiger

A 28 year old Australian man smirked as he walked into the Christchurch District Court in New Zealand’s South Island this morning, charged with murder after a carefully planned mass shooting at lunchtime prayers at two mosques.

The public was banned from the courtroom for the proceedings, but an angry crowd waited outside the court building.

Brenton Tarrant was brought to court by armed prison officers into the heavily secured central city courtroom, packed with local and international journalists.

According to reporters, the man kept turning towards the media and ‘smiling’. They report the man was ‘eerily calm’ during his appearance.

He has initially appeared on one charge of murder but is expected to face further charges. In New Zealand a murder charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Press from all over the world gathered in the courtroom, but the general public was banned.

Meanwhile, 18 year old Daniel John Burrough of Christchurch has been charged with intent to excite hostility or ill will against any group of persons on the ground of the colour, race or ethnic or national origins.

The alleged mass slaughter of Muslim worshippers at Friday prayers at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques, in central Christchurch, left 49 dead and more than 20 injured.

41 people died at Al Noor Mosque, seven at the Linwood Mosque and another died after being rushed to hospital.

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UPDATE: Christchurch massacre – The mind of an alleged mass murderer

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UPDATE: Christchurch massacre – The mind of an alleged mass murderer | The Thaiger

The gunman who Facebook live-streamed himself shooting his way into the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch also posted a political manifesto addressing his reasons for the attack. In his manifesto he described himself as “just a regular White man”.

At this stage 49 people have died after a gunman opened fire at two mosques in the South Island city of Christchurch.

Police have now taken a total of three people into custody after the gunman shot at Muslims in the mosque during prayer time around lunchtime today, New Zealand time.

Armed police headed to the Al Noor mosque on Deans Ave, where shooting broke out at 1.40pm today. The city’s schools and hospital were on lock-down. A short time later, shots were fired at another mosque in Linwood Avenue.

41 people were shot dead at the Deans Ave mosque, seven were killed at the Linwood Ave attack. One person shot in the second mosque attack and later died in hospital.

The man is identified as “Brenton Tarrant”, an Australian citizen. He live-streamed his deadly rampage giving police, and viewers, a horrific view of the entire attack.

The 28 year old told how he was born “to a working class, low-income family, who decided to take a stand to ensure a future for my people”.

He will appear in a Christchurch court tomorrow morning charged with murder.

New South Wales counter-terrorism police in Australia are now investigating after the revelation that he is from Grafton (a town in NSW) . The man also said he wanted to “directly reduce immigration rates to European lands”.

Australian PM Scott Morrison confirmed that the man taken into custody is an Australian-born citizen.

Brenton Tarrant was a student at the local high school and went on to work at a gym, where his former boss said he regularly volunteered his time to train kids for free.

In April 2010, his father died of cancer aged 49. This lead to Tarrant setting off on a seven-year trip world trip.

It was at some stage in this journey that some friends believe he was “perhaps radicalised”.

Tarrant has also revealed he had been planning an attack for up to two years, saying he decided on Christchurch in New Zealand’s South Island, three months ago.

“An attack in New Zealand would bring to attention the truth of the assault on our civilisation, that nowhere in the world was safe, the invaders were in all of our lands, even in the remotest areas of the world and that there was nowhere left to go that was safe and free from mass immigration.”

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