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World News: Syrian conflict update – Role of France, Russia and Iran

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World News: Syrian conflict update – Role of France, Russia and Iran | Thaiger
PHUKET MEDIA WATCH
– World news compiled by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

France recognises new Syria opposition
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: France became the first European power to recognize Syria’s new opposition coalition as the sole representative of its people and said yesterday it would look into arming rebels against President Bashar al-Assad once they form a government.

Twenty months into their bloody uprising against Assad, fragmented Syrian opposition groups struck a deal in Qatar on Sunday to form a broad coalition and their leader immediately appealed for European backing.

“I announce today that France recognizes the Syrian National Council as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people and as future government of a democratic Syria making it possible to bring an end to Bashar al-Assad’s regime,” French President Francois Hollande said, breaking ranks with European allies. Six Gulf Arab states took a similar step on Monday.

The question of arming the rebels would be looked at as soon as the rebel coalition formed a transitional government, Hollande told a news conference in Paris.

Arab League and EU foreign ministers meeting in Cairo welcomed the formation of the coalition as an important step forward, although their communiqué showed they had not reached a unanimous decision to recognize it as Syria’s sole authority.

The French announcement came just hours after Syria’s newly installed opposition leader urged European states to back the opposition so it could buy weapons.

Paris, one of Assad’s harshest critics, had previously ruled out arming rebel forces, concerned that weapons could get into the hands of radical Islamists.

Speaking to Reuters as Arab and European ministers met to discuss Syria at the Arab League in Cairo, Mouaz Alkhatib, the Damascus preacher elected unopposed on Sunday to lead the new group, had asked for diplomatic backing.

“I request European states to grant political recognition to the coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people and to give it financial support,” he said.

“When we get political recognition, this will allow the coalition to act as a government and hence acquire weapons and this will solve our problems,” added Alkhatib, who has been described by supporters as a moderate noted for his embrace of Syria’s religious and ethnic minorities.

So far, concerted action on Syria has been thwarted by divisions within the opposition, as well as by big power rivalries and a regional divide between Sunni Muslim foes of Assad and his Shi’ite allies in Iran and Lebanon.

Russia and China, which have lent Assad diplomatic support since the uprising erupted in March last year, have shown no sign of warming towards his Western- and Arab-backed opponents.

“Step forward”
Cajoled by Qatar and the United States, the ineffectual Syrian National Council, previously the main opposition body based abroad, agreed to join a wider coalition on Sunday.

Britain’s foreign minister, William Hague, said the coalition must show it had support within Syria before London would acknowledge it as the rightful government.

“If they have this, yes, we will then recognize them as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people,” he told reporters at the Arab-European meeting in Cairo.

The opposition had hoped its new-found unity would clear the way for outside powers to arm the rebels, but Western nations fear such weapons could reach the hands of Islamist militants.

Western concern has also been heightened by documented reports of atrocities by ill-disciplined insurgents.

“Syria’s newly created opposition front should send a clear message to opposition fighters that they must adhere to the laws of war and human rights law, and that violators will be held accountable,” New York-based Human Rights Watch said.

Border violence
Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for 42 years, has vowed to fight to the death in a conflict that has already killed an estimated 38,000 people and risks sucking in other countries.

His warplanes again struck homes in Ras al-Ain, a town on the northern border seized by rebels last week. Civilians fled over the border dividing it from the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar and thick plumes of smoke billowed upwards.

Syrian jets and artillery hit the town of Albu Kamal on the frontier with Iraq, where rebels have seized some areas, according to the mayor of the Iraqi border town of Qaim.

Tension also remained high on the Golan Heights, where Israeli gunners have retaliated against stray Syrian mortar fire landing on the occupied plateau in the previous two days.

Twenty months of conflict have created a vast humanitarian crisis, with more than 408,000 Syrians fleeing to neighboring countries and up to four million expected to need aid by early next year, according to the United Nations.

Fighting has also displaced 2.5 million civilians inside Syria, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent estimates.

“If anything, they believe it could be more; this is a very conservative estimate,” Melissa Fleming, chief spokeswoman of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in Geneva.

“So people are moving, really on the run, hiding,” she told a news briefing. “They are difficult to count and access.”

In Cairo, Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby urged opposition factions to join Alkhatib’s group, formally known as the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces.

But although six Gulf Arab nations recognized the coalition as Syria’s only legitimate representative on Monday, Iraq, Algeria and Lebanon prevented the League from following suit.

Iraq and Lebanon, with influential Shi’ite populations, have generally maintained better relations with Iran and with Assad, whose minority Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.

Moscow to seek Syria progress, bigger Middle East role in Riyadh
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Russia is expected to urge Saudi Arabia to allow its regional rival Iran to join moves to end the conflict in Syria in a rare high-level meeting today between the world’s top two oil producers, diplomatic sources said.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is hoping to raise Moscow’s profile in a region where its influence is at risk after blocking three U.N. resolutions meant to put pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to end the bloodshed.

The Syrian uprising, which has cost 38,000 lives in 20 months, has further strained traditionally uneasy ties between Russia and Saudi Arabia, a key ally of the United States.

The trip to Riyadh is Lavrov’s second Middle East visit in less than two weeks. Last week in Cairo he embraced an Egyptian-backed drive to bring together four regional powers to seek a solution to the Syrian crisis.

Saudi Arabia, which supports the rebels fighting Assad, has skipped two ministerial meetings of the group, which includes Egypt and Turkey – also critics of Assad – and Iran, Syria’s closest regional ally.

Lavrov’s efforts to persuade Saudi Arabia to back the inclusion of Iran in peace efforts are seen as unlikely to succeed.

“Lavrov has supported Egypt’s regional quartet initiative, but the problem there is that the Saudis don’t want to take part in a format that includes Iran. So he will be trying to c

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Covid-19 vaccine CEOs say 3rd dose may be needed along with annual jabs

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Covid-19 vaccine CEOs say 3rd dose may be needed along with annual jabs | Thaiger
Stock photo of Pfizer vaccine via Flickr

The CEO for the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines says it is likely that people will need a 3rd dose of the vaccine and to receive it annually. Albert Bourla, told CNBC, that the booster, or 3rd dose, will be needed less than a year after being fully vaccinated.

“A likely scenario is that there will be likely a need for a 3rd dose, somewhere between 6 and 12 months and then from there, there will be an annual revaccination, but all of that needs to be confirmed. And again, the variants will play a key role. It is extremely important to suppress the pool of people that can be susceptible to the virus.”

Bourla’s comment echoes that of Johnson & Johnson’s CEO when he stated in February, that people may need to get vaccinated against Covid-19 annually, just like seasonal flu shots. Both statements reflect the fact that since the vaccine is new, and testing periods are shorter than most vaccines in the past, researchers are still unclear about how long the vaccine will protect against the virus.

Pfizer says that its Covid-19 vaccine was more than 91% effective at protecting against the coronavirus and more than 95% effective against severe diseases up to 6 months after the 2nd dose. Moderna’s vaccine, which uses technology similar to Pfizer’s, was also shown to be highly effective at 6 months.

Just yesterday, the Biden administration’s Covid response chief science officer, David Kessler, noted that new Covid variants could “challenge” the effectiveness of the shots.

“We don’t know everything at this moment. We are studying the durability of the antibody response. It seems strong but there is some waning of that and no doubt the variants challenge … they make these vaccines work harder. So I think for planning purposes, planning purposes only, I think we should expect that we may have to boost.”

Late last month, the National Institute of Health started testing a new Covid vaccine from Moderna in addition to the one it already has, designed to protect against a problematic variant first found in South Africa. The variant is similar to that of the UK one that has recently made landfall in Thailand.

Recent findings, by The Lancet, however, have stated that the UK variant, known as B117, has a higher reproductive rate than other strains, and it’s more transmissible. However, it refuted earlier reports that the strain is more severe. Meanwhile, Thailand’s health minister is confirming his commitment to making AstraZeneca the nation’s chosen vaccine.

SOURCE: CNBC

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Economy

China grows 18.3%, the only major economy to grow in 2020

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China grows 18.3%, the only major economy to grow in 2020 | Thaiger
PHOTO: China - the second largest economy, and only major economy to grow last year.

China’s economy set a record for growth in Q1, 2021, marking an 18.3% jump in year-on-year figures, the biggest quarterly growth in almost 30 years. China only started publishing growth statistics in 1992, and this drastic increase is the fastest growth recorded since then.

The figures, however impressive, are mainly due to what is called a “low base effect” where the change from a low starting point translates into big percentage statistics. Because of the devastating economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Q1 2020 figures were dismal, allowing the big gain over the last year.

Quarter to quarter, the last 3 months saw only a 0.6% growth, but in the last quarter of 2020 China recorded an economic boom of 6.5% according to the Chinese government. Still, the figures are admirable, as China was the only major economy in the world to achieve growth in 2020. Most of the planet struggled to contain global Covid-19 outbreaks, crippling economies across the globe. But China, now the second-largest economy in the world, managed a 2.3% overall expansion. Even Chinese officials called the impressive statistics “better than we had expected.”

China has been growing in terms of imports and exports as well, with exports expanding nearly 31% and imports up 38% by price over last years.

SOURCE: CNN

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Denmark becomes first country in Europe to ditch AstraZeneca vaccine

Maya Taylor

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Denmark becomes first country in Europe to ditch AstraZeneca vaccine | Thaiger
PHOTO: Flickr

Denmark has announced that it is abandoning the AstraZeneca vaccine, the first European country to do so, amid concerns about very rare but serious blood clots. The rollout of the vaccine has run into problems in several countries, with its use either temporarily suspended or restricted to older age groups.

When concerns first arose over the vaccine’s rare side-effects, Denmark was the first country in Europe to suspend its use. In Thailand, use of the vaccine was suspended last month, before officials judged it safe to proceed, with Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul going on to confirm it would become the Kingdom’s primary Covid-19 vaccine.

Both the European drugs regulator and the World Health Organisation are standing by the jab, saying the benefits outweigh the risks. However, health officials in Denmark have now decided to ditch it for good.

“Denmark’s vaccination campaign will go ahead without the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

Denmark has reported 2 cases of thrombosis (blood clotting) linked to administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine, one of which proved fatal. The blood clot incidents arose after 140,000 people had received the jab. The Bangkok Post reports that 8% of Denmark’s 5.8 million inhabitants have been fully vaccinated and 17% have received their first dose.

The country plans to continue its rollout using the Modern and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. Officials say they are confident that the availability of other jabs, coupled with the fact that Covid-19 is relatively under control in Denmark, means the country’s mass inoculation can continue without issue.

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca has released a statement acknowledging the decision taken by Danish health authorities.

“We recognise and respect the decision taken by the Danish Health Authority. Implementation and rollout of the vaccine programme is a matter for each country to decide, based on local conditions. We will continue to collaborate with the regulators and local authorities to provide all available data to inform their decisions.”

SOURCE: Euro News | Bangkok Post

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