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World News: Venezuela deports gringo spy; WikiLeaks case update; US soldier pleads guilty to murder

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World News: Venezuela deports gringo spy; WikiLeaks case update; US soldier pleads guilty to murder | The Thaiger
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PHUKET MEDIA WATCH
– World news compiled by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Venezuela deports US filmmaker accused of being a spy
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Venezuela yesterday deported an American filmmaker who was arrested in April on accusations of spying for Washington and plotting with opposition student groups to destabilize the South American OPEC nation.

“The gringo Timothy Hallet Tracy, who was captured while spying in our country, has been expelled,” Interior and Justice Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres said on Twitter.

The American’s lawyer, Daniel Rosales, said the charges against his client had been dropped, and the 35-year-old returned to the United States on a commercial flight to Miami.

“It was a traumatic experience. He’s going to need some time,” his sister, Tiffany Klaasen, told Reuters, saying he was still trying to come to grips with his imprisonment.

“We’re just really happy that my brother is back and safe,” she said by phone from her home in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan.

The outcome of the case was seen as a test of new Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s intentions toward Washington following years of hostility from his predecessor, late socialist leader Hugo Chavez.

During a trip to Latin America in May, President Barack Obama called the accusations against Tracy “ridiculous.”

Tracy’s release came hours before US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua on the sidelines of a regional meeting in Guatemala in a rare high-level meeting between the ideologically opposed governments.

Tracy’s sister said a former US congressman from Massachusetts, William Delahunt, who has worked to foster better relations between the two countries, helped win his release.

Delahunt was part of a small US delegation at Chavez’s funeral in March. He has been advising Tracy’s family since his arrest.

Kerry welcomes release

Friends and relatives of Tracy, who was a director and producer at Los Angeles-based Freehold Productions, according to his LinkedIn profile, said he was making a documentary in Venezuela ahead of its April 14 presidential election.

He was arrested 10 days after the vote as he tried to fly out of the country – amid a flurry of headline-grabbing accusations by the government that included claims of assassination plots against Maduro from US soil.

Venezuela said intelligence agents had been tracking Tracy since late 2012 and had uncovered ample evidence he was plotting with militant anti-government groups to provoke “civil war.”

Klaasen said her brother was treated well while he was in jail. “We were in touch with him every day,” she said. “We never had any concerns about his safety.”

Several dozen Venezuelan filmmakers had appealed for Tracy’s release. According to his LinkedIn profile, Tracy attended Georgetown University and his work included the “Madhouse” TV series about stock car racing for the History Channel.

Obama’s comments on Tracy’s arrest infuriated Venezuela’s government and revived accusations of “imperialist meddling” that became routine during Chavez’s polarizing 14-year rule.

Maduro rebuffed Obama, describing his US counterpart as “the grand chief of devils” and issuing a formal protest note.

Maduro, who narrowly won April’s vote amid allegations of foul play by both sides, has at times also seemed to strike a more conciliatory note.

On Wednesday, Kerry called Venezuela’s decision to release Tracy a “positive development” after meeting with Jaua. He said he hoped the two countries could move quickly to reinstate mutual ambassadors, which they have been without since 2010.

“We agreed today, both of us, that we would like to see our countries find a new way forward, establish a more constructive and positive relationship,” Kerry said.

Washington has held back recognition of Maduro, and a US official said this week that there remained concerns about how deep post-election divisions in Venezuela would be resolved.

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US soldier in WikiLeaks case boasted of hacking passwords
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: The US soldier accused of passing classified files to the WikiLeaks website boasted of his ability to crack passwords, one of his Army supervisors said at a court-martial yesterday.

The soldier, Private First Class Bradley Manning, 25, is charged with providing more than 700,000 documents to WikiLeaks, the biggest unauthorized release of classified files in US history. The most serious among the charges is aiding the enemy.

Manning, then an intelligence analyst, boasted of being able to bypass any Internet portal password, former Army Specialist Jihrleah Showman testified under prosecution questioning.

“He said he felt very fluent with computers. He said he spoke their language,” said Showman, who was one of Manning’s supervisors when he worked as an intelligence analyst at a US Army base east of Baghdad in 2010. “He said there wasn’t anything he couldn’t do on a computer.”

WikiLeaks began exposing the US government secrets in 2010, stunning diplomats and officials. They accused Manning of endangering lives and damaging sensitive diplomacy.

Showman said Manning had installed Microsoft’s IRC, or Internet Relay Chat, on her computer even though only a civilian contractor was allowed to do so.

One of Manning’s commanders testified that anti-US insurgents used several online sites to mine for information. In a potential blow to the case against Manning, she did not name WikiLeaks even though the website was listed in a 2008 Army counterintelligence report as a potential source of leaks from inside the military.

“They go to Facebook, Google and Google Maps and types of social media,” intelligence officer Captain Casey Fulton said under questioning by defence attorney David Coombs.

Fulton’s testimony could potentially hurt the prosecution’s charge that Manning was aiding the enemy by providing documents to WikiLeaks, said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice in Washington.

Fulton said she had seen part of the leaked material, a combat video from a 2007 Apache gunship attack in Baghdad, in December 2009 when it was stored on the hard drive of the Iraq base’s classified computer.

When the video surfaced in April 2010 on WikiLeaks, she told Manning and others that she did not believe it was the same one she had seen. Manning told her he believed it had been edited and then sent her both versions, she said.

Manning, who has been in confinement since he was arrested in May 2010, could be sentenced to life in prison without parole if convicted. His lawyers have said he only wanted to show the US public the reality of war in Afghanistan and Iraq by releasing the information.

Among the 21 charges Manning faces is adding unauthorized software to a computer that was part of the clas

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Moderna vaccine is proved ‘protective’ against Covid-19 variants

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Moderna vaccine is proved ‘protective’ against Covid-19 variants | The Thaiger
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As fear over new variants of Covid-19 had prompted the travel restrictions to tighten worldwide, the United States biotech firm Moderna announced that its vaccine should protect against the variants identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

Latest studies on the efficacy of Moderna vaccines confirmed that the vaccines are effective and protective against new variants. The company will continue more tests adding a second booster of its vaccine, bringing to 3 shots in a total.

“We are encouraged by these new data, which reinforce our confidence that the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine should be protective against these newly detected variants.”

Last month, a private hospital in Bangkok advertised pre-orders for the Moderna vaccine, which still needs approval from Thailand’s FDA. Thailand’s Department of Health Service Support demanded that the hospital remove the advertisements.

In the ads, the hospital was charging 4,000 baht for a booking of the vaccine. In the post the hospital said the vaccine would arrive in Thailand in October 2021. They also announced that the vaccine would cost 6,000-10,000 baht.

Health officials say private hospitals will be allowed to administer vaccines that are approved by the FDA. So far, the Thai government has only approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use. The first batch of 50,000 doses are expected to arrive next month. Frontline health care workers and vulnerable groups in high risk areas will be first to receive the vaccine.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Florida is ready to host Olympics if Tokyo draws back

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Florida is ready to host Olympics if Tokyo draws back | The Thaiger
PHOTO: abc News

If Tokyo backs out of hosting the Olympics, Florida might step in. The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and rescheduled for this July. With a fairly unpredictable future, Tokyo could back out of its plan to host the Olympics. Florida’s chief financial officer says the Sunshine State is ready.

The CFO, Jimmy Patronis, sent a letter to the head of the International Olympic Committee saying he encourages him to consider relocating the games to Florida.

In a letter, he pointed out strong points of Florida that make it a good site for the games, including the state’s vaccination roll-out, reopening of businesses, and ongoing sports events hosted in the state during the pandemic. Tampa, Florida is also set to host the 55th Super Bowl on February 7.

“Whatever precautions are required let’s figure it out and get it done.”

Although businesses are open and sports events still going on, Florida is rated as the third state with the highest number of Covid-19 cases with a total of 1,658,169 reported cases and 25,446 coronavirus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic.

“With media reports of leaders in Japan ‘privately’ concluding that they are too concerned about the pandemic for the 2021 Olympics to take place, there is still time to deploy a site selection team to Florida.”

But those planning the Tokyo games say they’re sticking with the plan to host the Olympics from July 23 until August 8. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga also says he’s keeping to the plan.

“I am determined to realise a safe and secure Tokyo Games as proof that mankind will have overcome the virus.”

SOURCE:AFP

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AstraZeneca says reports of vaccine’s low efficacy among elderly is “completely incorrect”

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AstraZeneca says reports of vaccine’s low efficacy among elderly is “completely incorrect” | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Finnomena

The pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca says reports that its Covid-19 vaccine has an extremely low efficacy among the elderly is “completely incorrect.” German newspapers published articles today reporting that the AstraZeneca vaccine, developed in partnership with Oxford University, has an efficacy less than 10% in those over 65 years old.

The economic daily Handelsblatt reported that Berlin estimated the vaccine’s efficacy for those over 65 years old was just 8%. The vaccine is set to be approved by the European Union this week, but the report adds that Berlin does not expect the vaccine will receive a license allowing use for the elderly.

AstraZeneca released a statement saying the reports of the low efficacy rate for adults over 65 is “completely incorrect.”

“In November, we published data in The Lancet demonstrating that older adults showed strong immune responses to the vaccine, with 100% of older adults generating spike-specific antibodies after the second dose.”

Thailand is lined up to receive 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine next month and the Thai government has approved the vaccine for emergency use. Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul is now calling on hospitals, both public and private, to prepare for the first phase of vaccinations, starting with health care workers and vulnerable groups in high risk areas. The vaccine requires 2 doses injected 4 to 12 weeks apart.

SOURCES: Reuters | Nation Thailand | AFP

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