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

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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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Politics

Japan may stop assistance projects to Myanmar in response to coup

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Japan may stop assistance projects to Myanmar in response to coup | The Thaiger

Japan may stop assistance projects to Myanmar in response to the military coup, which has received major international backlash. As a major donor to Myanmar, Japan joins other advanced nations in condemning the coup which has seen security forces using violence against peaceful protesters.

Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi was quoted as saying in a phone call that “Japan will strongly urge the Myanmar military to release Suu Kyi and other detained individuals, and to swiftly restore democratic government.”

But it may not impose sanctions like the rest of the other developed countries as its longtime ties with the armed forces, ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy and investment promoting policy in the country may serve as a barrier in doing so. Britan and the United States have imposed sanctions in recent days which include the US freezing military funds.

A Japanese Foreign Ministry official says stopping its support of building projects would give China a chance to move in, increasing its clout in Myanmar. Around 450 Japanese companies operate in Myanmar with Japan being the 5th largest investor in the Southeast nation. Singapore has the most companies, followed by China, Hong Kong and Vietnam.

The Foreign Ministry says Japan spent about US $1.8 billion in official development assistance in the fiscal year of 2019, making it the largest among the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. But it is unknown what China has poured into it as it has refused to disclose its expenditures.

The Japanese government plans to continue coronavirus emergency assistance to Myanmar through international organisations and non-governmental organisations. The World Bank, however, has stopped payments to projects in the nation indefinitely, after the coup on February 1, which disrupted the democratic elections last November and saw the arrest of top leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party, the National League for Democracy, won the elections in a landslide victory.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Law

Australia sets worldwide precedent by passing pay‐to‐play legislation for social media giants

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Australia sets worldwide precedent by passing pay‐to‐play legislation for social media giants | The Thaiger

In a landmark decision, Australia is now requiring global digital giants, such as Facebook and Google, to pay for using local news content on their websites. The move sets a precedent that many global companies have been anticipating.

The law passed yesterday after Facebook and Google reached an agreement to pay local Australian news organisations for using their stories on their websites. 1 week ago, Australians woke up to a blackout after Facebook temporarily banned local news, which included emergency notifications. The blackout was in response to the legislation being put forth for approval, with Facebook spokespeople saying it seemed to be their only choice at the time.

The new law sets the stage for other countries worldwide to gain more revenue for local media companies by making such social media giants pay to use content. Google’s “Showcase” product will now feature paid local news with Facebook showing such paid news under its “News” category.

Companies like Google and Facebook pushed back against the legislation, saying such a law could threaten their companies’ business models, with Google saying it could make their search engine website “unworkable.”

But local news organisations have rebuked the reasoning, citing that social media giants claim a large percentage of online advertisin, leaving local news companies out of the revenue game. Citing that news is gathered by reporting and fieldwork, the companies say it is unfair for social media companies to profit largely off of the work of local, smaller companies.

The law, called the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code, aims to protect such local companies and to sustain public interest journalism. Thousands of journalists have lost their jobs over the past decade as local media outlets have seen the bulk of their advertising revenues flow to digital companies’ sites after using their content.

Australia’s competition watchdog says that for every $100 invested by Australian advertisers, $49 is sent to Google and $24 to Facebook. Now, both online businesses say they will each invest around US $1 billion in local news content globally in the next 3 years. Facebook and Google now have 2 more months to reach solid agreements before being subjected to binding arbritations.

SOURCE: The Phuket News

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World

Lady Gaga offers US $500,000 reward for stolen bulldogs

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Lady Gaga offers US $500,000 reward for stolen bulldogs | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Instagram/Lady Gaga

Who knew that finding 2 french bulldogs would earn US $500,000? That is the case for the lucky person that finds Lady Gaga’s equally lucky stolen dogs. The dogs, Koji and Gustav, were stolen in Los Angeles, California while out on a walk with their dog walker.

But that’s not all. The employee in charge of keeping the dogs healthy was shot and wounded by a gunman who left the scene in a car, but not before allegedly shooting another man in this 30s. That man was hospitalised according to LA police.

Asia, Gaga’s 3rd dog was luckily found by police at the scene and was taken home by the singer’s staff. It isn’t clear if the frenchies were targeted due to their owner’s famous status or if they were taken simply because they were an expensive pedigree breed that can be sold for thousands of dollars.

Gaga, however, has offered the hefty reward for their return with “no questions asked.”

SOURCE: CNN

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