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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen opened a virtual meeting of Asian and European leaders Thursday with a call for sustainable and shared global growth as the world seeks to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thirty European countries and 21 Asian countries, along with multinational organizations representing the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, are represented at the two-day Asia-Europe Meeting.

The biennial event is being hosted by Cambodia after being postponed from last year due to the pandemic.

ASEM’s membership accounts for 65% of the global economy, 60% of the world’s population, 75% of global tourism and and 55% of global trade, according to the organizers.

“As we all strive for socio-economic recovery while living with COVID-19, the theme that we have chosen for the ASEM-13, namely “Strengthening Multilateralism for Shared Growth,” is even more valid and relevant than ever,” Hun Sen said in opening remarks to the meeting. “In fact, in the post-COVID-19 crisis world, we need to further reinforce our Asia-Europe partnership to maintain a strong multilateralism that will bring about a global growth that is not only ‘Sustainable’ but can also be ‘Shared.’”

The absence of one leader, Myanmar’s Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, is likely to reduce attention at ASEM to the deterioration of human rights in that Southeast Asian country since the army seized power in February from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

According to the list of attendees, Myanmar’s representation is listed as “working group.” There has been no public explanation of Min Aung Hlaing’s absence, but his military-installed government is ostracized by many Western nations for its takeover and its violent suppression of pro-democracy protests. U.N. experts have said the country is now on the verge of civil war.

There had been concerns that if the Myanmar leader had attended, major Western powers would have downgraded their representation, diminishing the prospects for substantive cooperation.

It is the third time that Min Aung Hlaing, who led February’s army takeover, has been absent from important regional meetings which Myanmar’s leader would normally attend.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, last month agreed not to invite him to its annual summit meeting. The action was a rebuke for Myanmar’s failure to cooperate with ASEAN’s modest efforts to help restore peace and stability to the strife-torn country. Myanmar was invited to send a representative in Min Aung Hlaing’s place but declined to do so.

The general was also absent from the ASEAN-China Special Summit earlier this week.

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Switzerland: Voters Back Vaccine Passports in National Referendum

BERLIN (AP) – Swiss voters on Sunday gave clear backing to legislation that introduced a system with special COVID-19 certificates under which only people who have been vaccinated, recovered or tested negative can attend public events and gatherings.

Final results showed 62% of voters supporting the legislation, which is already in force. The referendum offered a rare bellwether of public opinion on the issue of government policy to fight the spread of coronavirus in Europe, which is currently the global epicenter of the pandemic.

The vote on the country’s “COVID-19 law,” which also has unlocked billions of Swiss francs (dollars) in aid for workers and businesses hit by the pandemic, came as Switzerland – like many other nations in Europe – faces a steep rise in coronavirus cases.

The Swiss federal government, unlike others, hasn’t responded with new restrictions. Analysts said it didn’t want to stir up more opposition to its anti-COVID-19 policies before they faced Sunday’s test at the ballot box – but that if Swiss voters gave a thumbs-up, the government may well ratchet up its anti-COVID efforts.

Of the country’s 26 cantons (states), only two – Schwyz and Appenzell Innerrhoden, both conservative rural regions in eastern Switzerland – voted against the legislation.

Josef Ender, a spokesman for one of the groups that opposed it, told SRF public radio “it was important that the Swiss population could form an opinion on the tightening of the COVID law.” He maintained that “even if there is a ‘yes'” to the legislation, it violates parts of the country’s constitution.

Turnout on Sunday was 65.7%, an unusually high figure in a country that holds referendums several times a year.

On Tuesday, Swiss health authorities warned of a rising “fifth wave” on infections in the rich Alpine country, where vaccination rates are roughly in line with those in hard-hit neighbors Austria and Germany at about two-thirds of the population. Infection rates have soared in recent weeks.

The seven-day average case count in Switzerland shot up to more than 5,200 per day from mid-October to mid-November, a more than five-fold increase. Austria, meanwhile, has imposed a national lockdown to fight the rising infections.

Mass demonstrations erupted across Europe on Saturday with anti-lockdown protests being staged in Vienna, Rome, and The Netherlands. https://t.co/gyqNiesWQ3

— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) November 21, 2021

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