Thai News

2009: Jan-March

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16th June   

Suppressing a Sneeze...

Controlling flu statistics
Link Here

The Public Health Ministry is asking provincial health and hospital chiefs not to speak to the media about swine flu cases in an effort to calm disquiet over the extent of the spread of the virus.

Ministry spokesman Suphan Sithamma said a letter was being sent to senior health figures warning them not to say anything about the number of flu cases and details about the patients. All information was to be filtered through health authorities in Bangkok.

The ministry's hush-hush order came as the number of flu cases passed the 200 mark and experts expected it to rise further.

The number of H1N1 victims in Thailand yesterday reached 201 after 51 new cases were confirmed.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and other officials, including cabinet members in charge of public health, have urged people not to panic as the virus has a low fatality rate.

 

13th March   

Dry Songkran...

Songkran to be dry, hopefully not totally
Link Here

The Public Health Ministry has issued two options for alcohol consumption during the Songkran Festival from April 12 to 14.

Deputy public health minister Manit Nopamornbodi said the ministerial executives had come up with two ideas:

  • ban all sale of alcohol during the entire period
  • ban sale at stores but allow restaurants, pubs and hotels with an Excise Department permit to serve booze from 6pm to midnight.

The ministry will soon submit a report to the National Committee for Alcohol Consumption Control Policy for a final say, he added.

Disease Control Department chief Somchai Chakrabhand said the ministry came up with these options after listening to all sides, including anti-alcohol groups, academics, manufacturers and business operators. The idea was to control the impact of drinking rather than prohibit it altogether, he said, though allowing booze to be sold at convenience stores or supermarkets will only encourage drunk driving, he added.

 

11th March   

Passport to Jail...

British man jailed after argument with Thai immigration
Link Here

A British man holidaying in Thailand claimed he was beaten, handcuffed and jailed after Foreign Office diplomats mistakenly told Phuket immigration officials he was travelling on a false passport.

Simon Burrowes also claimed that officials from the British embassy in Bangkok acknowledged their error only after he had spent 11 days in a cramped cell with 126 inmates.

Burrowes has been barred from leaving Thailand and is on £2,000 bail after being charged with insulting the immigration officials during the initial altercation over the passport.

The 6ft 3ins Thai kick-boxing instructor admits he lost his temper as his flight left without him. But he must wait until the end of next month to appear in court and could face up to two years in jail.

The nearest the embassy has come to apologising was a remark by the consular official in Phuket whom, he claims, said: I can empathise with your self-righteousness. It was a one-in-a-thousand glitch.

Thai immigration officials were suspicious of my passport. When they checked with the British embassy, an official told them my passport number didn't exist. I spoke to the embassy official. He said it didn't exist. I begged him to double check. But he refused because the embassy closed at Friday midday. They said they'd prioritise the matter the following week, so I was sent to jail. Officials had all day in London to check. I can't believe they couldn't have done it.

Burrowes, whose parents are from Guyana, says he was treated like a drugs' smuggler and taken to jail because he did not have the £2,000 bail the authorities demanded.

From that moment on I was treated as someone less than human. I was handcuffed to another Thai and sent to court. As I was led into the court I was beaten by an official with a leather strap.

Four days later the British consular official visited him in jail. It was a week later that embassy officials visited again, told him his passport had been verified as genuine seven days earlier.

The officials then told him he was being detained on a charge that he was rude and aggressive to the Thai immigration controllers, which was the first he knew of it.

Burrowes, concedes he used the words fucking and idiot in front of immigration officials when his flight, for which his ticket was non-refundable, left without him. They'd kept me waiting an hour studying my passport with a magnifying glass. I was angry. I grabbed my passport and walked out of the immigration area, saying, 'I'm a British citizen who has come to your country to spend my money. Don't treat me like a fucking idiot.

Thai immigration police say it was they who were called fucking idiots . His case could take a year, longer if he pleads not guilty, and the first hearing is not until 27 April.

A spokesman for the Bangkok embassy said no officials had at any time told anyone involved that the passport was not valid. Nor had any official admitted glitches or empathised with Burrowes.

 

6th March   

No Pride in Thailand...

Red shirt protestors get gay pride parade cancelled
Link Here

lThe second gay pride parade in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was called off at the last minute Feb. 21 following virulent on-site protests by 30 red shirted members of a group called Rak Chiang Mai 51.

Pride organizers said they feared the march would descend into violence, despite the presence of 150 police officers.

Rak Chiang Mai 51 spokesman Petchawat Wattanapongsirikul said pride events should be held in other cities, such as Phuket and Pattaya: Chiang Mai people cannot accept this and will stop the parade by all means, even violence.

 

5th March   

Fiction or Exaggeration?...

Reports and denials of Thai interrogation of CIA terror suspects
Link Here

The United States government has admitted for the first time that it had a secret jail in Thailand where suspected al-Qaeda operatives were flown in to be interrogated, including being subjected to waterboarding.

Federal prosecutors revealed the details in documents submitted to a court in New York as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. Prosecutors also revealed that 92 videotapes made and stored in Thailand of the questionable interrogation techniques had been personally ordered to be destroyed by the then head of the CIA, Jose A Rodriguez Jr.

The tapes concerning two detainees, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, were destroyed as the US Congress and the courts were intensifying their scrutiny of the agency's detention and interrogation programme. The civil liberties union is asking a judge to hold the agency in contempt for destroying the tapes.

In November 2005, the Washington Post and ABC News ran stories accusing the CIA of using rendition flights to transfer alleged al-Qaeda operatives to Thailand.

But Thai authorities were quick to deny the reports.

Supreme Commander Gen Ruengroj Mahasaranont said the ABC News report was just fiction and exaggerated .

A statement was issued by the Foreign Ministry saying: Our investigations with relevant government agencies reveal that there have been no such secret prisons in Thailand.

In the 2005 report, ABC News said Zubaydah was first held in Thailand in an unused warehouse on an active airbase. It also said that after he recovered from life-threatening wounds, incurred during his arrest, he was made to stand long hours in a cold cell and strapped feet-up to a water board until he begged for mercy and began to cooperate. In waterboarding , a detainee is strapped to a board, dunked under water and made to believe he might be drowned.

The Thai army chief General Anupong Paochinda has also strongly denied reports of the secret United States prison: I can say 1 million per cent that a secret jail like this has not existed in Thailand.

 

15th February   

Airport Link Skytrain...

Opening date August 12 2009
Link Here

The Transportation Minister has prepared to test the Airport Link Skytrain prior to its opening in August while its construction has so far reached 90% completion.

Director-General of the Department of Highways Suphot Suplom, as an executive of the State Railway of Thailand (SRT), announced that the construction on the Airport Link Skytrain has been completed up to 90 percent and that the service would be fully opened on August 12, 2009.

In the initial stage, the service will be available from Makkasan Station or the City Air Terminal to Suvarnabhumi Airport Station.

Suphot stated that the SRT is currently selecting the company to provide check-in service including a luggage x-ray system.

 

14th February   

Wet and Dry...

Government debates whether to ban alcohol over Songkran
Link Here

Public Health Minister Witthaya Kaewparadai is at odds with his deputy over the banning of alcohol sales during Songkran this year.

Witthaya on Friday said he wanted to be certain that any regulations announced for curbing alcohol sales during long holidays would not affect the hotel industry: I don't want the anti-alcohol campaign to worsen the tourism industry .

But his deputy Manit Nopamornbodee fully supported such a ban, saying the campaign has to be undertaken in a bid to reduce deaths and road accidents. Manit, who oversees the anti-drink-driving campaign, earlier said the sale of alcohol would be prohibited during Songkran holidays.

Witthaya said he would discuss the issue with his deputy before making any decision on alcohol regulations. He would also listen to the Alcohol Watch Network's proposal aimed at reducing the number of road accidents during long weekends.

The official holiday for Songkran is between April 13 and April 15.

 

9th February   

That Sinking Feeling...

Bangkok to be under water by 2030?
Link Here

Flooding is already a fact of life in Samut Prakan, this urban port roughly 16 kilometers from Bangkok proper. While many Thais shrug off the flooding as an inconvenience, the country's top disaster specialist sees doom in the rising waters.

Right now, nothing is being done, says Meteorologist Smith Dharmasaroja, head of Thailand's National Disaster Warning Center: And if nothing is ever done? Bangkok will be flooded.

By 2030, much of Bangkok will lie under 1.5. meters (5 feet) of seawater, Smith says. It's Polar ice melting has the world's sea level rising at more than one-tenth of an inch per year, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Bangkok's steel and concrete buildings, which weigh down on soft clay underneath, are causing the capitol to sink more than 3 inches per year on average, Smith says. And many natural flood buffers, such as coastal mangroves, were replaced with cement long ago. Also Bangkok residents and businesses are pumping out water from beneath the city.

Those factors will conspire, Smith says, to flood Bangkok with seawater. By his math, the low-lying city will take on more than .75 meters (2.5 feet) of water every 10 years. Along Bangkok's posh riverfront a promenade of deluxe apartments and hotels city workers are already dispatched to brace the shoreline with sandbags. This is not a solution. It's temporary and it's a waste of time.

To hear Smith tell it, this is doomsday in its infancy. In 2100, by his projections, Bangkok will be Atlantis. He is calling for a massive dike spanning the Gulf of Thailand, a roughly $2.8 billion USD project by his estimation. But to save Bangkok, he insists, construction must begin almost immediately.

 

6th February   

Screwing Around with Morality...

Plenty of fun in Bangkok bars but not allowed at a private swingers party
Link Here

After having reportedly organised more than a hundred swingers parties during the past three years, a British man was arrested along with his Thai wife at a Bangkok hotel. With them were five Thais and 16 foreigners allegedly having fun in a wife swapping party.

Christian Richards has been charged with procurement and commercial sex advertisements. The parties are advertised through www.Bangkok.CraigsList.co.th where Richards' wife goes by the name of Duang. They charge each participant Bt3,000.

The victims of the police raid were a mix of Americans, French, Indians and Chinese. The Tourist Police arrived at the hotel suite to find the party just warming up and discovered condoms, 30 Viagra tablets and pornographic movies.

The police caught Richards in January at a party for about 50 people in a Huay Kwang hotel area but he claimed it was a birthday party and charges were pressed.

Tourist police commander Archayon Kraithong said that the police investigation suggests such activities have been going on for three to four years, attracting 25 to 30 people from many countries to each party.

The foreign and Thai participants were released after paying fines, while Richards was still being questioned by police yesterday. If found guilty, he faces a jail sentence of up to 10 years or a fine of up to Bt20,000.

 

2nd February   

Seeing Red...

Red shirts on the march in Bangkok
Link Here

Tens of thousands of protesters have marched on Thailand's Government House to demand fresh elections.

The demonstrators, mostly supporters of the exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, claim that the government of prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is illegitimate because he came to power last month with the support of the army.

Only a year ago, Thaksin's supporters beat Abhisit's Democrat Party in national elections for the third time in a row. But the elected government was undermined by protesters who occupied government house then seized both Bangkok's airports, costing the ailing economy hundreds of millions of pounds.

Now Thaksin's red shirted supporters are copying their opponents' tactics to put pressure on Abhisit and demand punishment for the airport protesters: We want to know why none of their leaders have been arrested when they clearly broke the law by occupying airports, demanded one of the redshirt leaders, Jatuporn Phromphan.

The new foreign minister, Kasit Piromya, was a key supporter of the airport hijackings. The redshirts say they will return to the streets in 15 days unless Kasit is sacked and other leaders of the movement are charged.

On their way to Government House, the scarlet crowd stretched as far as the eye could see down the broad, street-lit avenues of central Bangkok. They pushed through four police barricades with little resistance but found the Government House compound occupied by soldiers in riot gear with wooden clubs. Their leaders read out their demands before the crowd peacefully dispersed after midnight.

 

16th January   

Cast Adrift...

Illegal immigrants cast out to sea
Link Here

Thai soldiers are detaining illegal migrants from Bangladesh and Burma and forcing them back out to sea in boats without engines, survivors say.

Survivors say their hands were tied and they were towed out to sea with little or no food or water.

About 500 migrants are now recovering from acute dehydration in India's Andaman islands and the Indonesian province of Aceh.

Sources in the police and army confirmed to the BBC's Jonathan Head in Bangkok that asylum seekers are being pushed out to sea. They did not provide further details about the practice.

Survivors rescued by Indian coast guards say hundreds of other asylum-seekers are still missing after leaving Bangladesh and Burma since the end of November. They said that the Thai authorities detained many of them in Koh Sai Daeng island.

Thai soldiers tied up our hands and then put us in boats without engines. These were towed into the high sea by motorised boats and left to drift,
said Zaw Win, a survivor rescued by Indian coast guards off the coast of Little Andamans after drifting for 12 days: We were without food and water.

This group of migrants was also rescued by the Indian coast guards and put into relief camps. They have all suffered huge dehydration. We are taking care of them the best we can, said Ratan Kar, deputy director of health services in the Andamans.

Human rights activists have condemned Thailand's inhuman and brutal response to this new wave of illegal migration.

Based on article from nationmultimedia.com

Navy chief Admiral Kamthorn Phumhiran dismissed a BBC report claiming Thai military had ill-treated the Rohingyas from Burma and Bangladesh who sought work or asylum by pushing them out to sea and setting them adrift.

The Royal Thai Navy did not badly treated the Rohingyas. There was no setting them adrift as alleged, he said.

Under the military convention, the navy is obligated to rescue enemies from a sunken ship, he said, arguing there is no reason to mistreat the migrants landing on the Thai shore.

In the incident in question, the navy was notified by marine park rangers about the Rohingyas at Kon Sai Daeng, Ranong, he said.

A group of 20 navymen were dispatched to investigate and they found more than 100 Rohingyas, prompting the order for the migrants to lie down for safety reason, he said.

 

15th January   

Discount Thailand...

Thai government serious about attracting tourists back
Link Here

The Tourism and Sports Ministry has submitted 13 tourism recovery measures for government approval. The proposals include waiving visa fees, cutting air fares and reducing airport charges.

Minister Chumpol Silapa-Archa said the proposed measures were handed to the government's economic team yesterday.

The tourism industry, which normally generates about 6-8% of gross domestic product, is suffering from the global economic crisis and last year's eight-day closure of Bangkok's two commercial airports.

Among the measures proposed to revive sector, the ministry will urge Thai Airways International and other carriers to cut fares by 50% to encourage more advanced bookings.

It is also urging the government to waive visa fees for tourists from all countries for six months, with a possible extension of a further six months.

The ministry has also asked the government to reduce value-added tax on hotel room rates for one year, and Airports of Thailand to reduce landing and parking fees at the country's international airports in a bid to persuade more airlines to restore their Thai operations.

Moreover, hotel operators have asked for an exemption from the annual fee of Bt80 per room they have to pay to the Revenue Department.

Banks, meanwhile, will be encouraged to extend debt-repayment periods for operators in the tourism sector for three years.

The ministry also plans to promote the major destinations of Phuket, Krabi and Phang Nga for local tourism by reducing airport taxes and surcharges. In addition, all national parks should play their part by waiving entrance fees for three years.

The government has also been urged to help workers in the tourism sector, which faces a high risk of increased job losses.

Chumpol said the ministry would seek an additional budget from the government to assist the tourism sector.

The Cabinet on approved Bt1 billion to help tourism and related businesses, but more funding was needed to support the recovery effort.

Prakit Chinamourphong, president of the Thai Hotels Association, said three- and four-star hotels planned to discount room rates by 50% for people visiting the country in February and March.

Among the main target markets are China, India, the Middle East, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan.

 

10th January   

Polling Day...

Thai government by-elections
Link Here

Sunday sees Thailand's first by-elections since a new government took power after sustained political unrest.

The polls will be a test of political strength for the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, head of the Democrat Party. Voters will fill 29 parliamentary seats made vacant mostly by politicians disqualified from office.

Abhisit's government was voted in with a majority of 37 votes, with the support of 235 lawmakers in the 480-seat lower house of Parliament.

Of the 29 seats at stake in Sunday's polls, 13 belonged to allies of Thaksin in the disbanded People's Power Party that led the previous government, and 16 seats were held by the Chart Thai party, which was also disbanded. Chart Thai had supported the pro-Thaksin alliance, but its lawmakers have now switched their allegiance to the Democrats.

Pundits in the local press expect the majority of the seats formerly held by Thaksin's allies to go to small parties and factions that now support Abhisit's government.

The coalition is likely to retain its majority but the Democrat Party will have to rely more on small parties and factions whose allegiances are fickle, said Sukhum Nuansakul, a political scientist at Bangkok's Ramkhamhaeng University.

 

8th January   

Banking on Less Visitors...

Bank of Thailand predicts a bad year four tourism
Link Here

Thailand may see its lowest number of tourist arrivals in four years in 2009 after the blockade of Bangkok's airports late last year that stranded thousands of holidaymakers, the Bank of Thailand said in a report.

The central bank said foreign arrivals probably fell 3% to 14 million in 2008 and could drop nearly 9% to 12.8 million this year.

That would be the lowest since 2005, when visitors dropped slightly from the previous year to 11.5 million after the December 2004 tsunami.

Revenue from tourism -- which employs 1.8 million people out of a population of about 65 million -- could fall 14% to 484 billion baht this year ($14 billion) after a projected 2% drop to 564 billion baht in 2008, the report said. In total, the airport closures could eventually cost the economy 290 billion baht, or 3% of 2009 GDP, with the tourist sector the hardest hit, it said.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has warned that the country could slide into recession and says his government plans aggressive measures to help the export-led economy, which the central bank expects to grow just 0.5-2.5% this year.

Exports fell nearly 18% in November, the first monthly drop since 2002, due to the airport blockade and falling demand in the face of the global economic crisis.

 

2nd January   

Updated: Substandard Safety...

Fireworks inside pub cause fire that kills 60
Link Here

Police in the Thai capital Bangkok are investigating the cause of the New Year's Eve fire at a city nightclub that killed 60 people.

More than 200 people, including at least four Britons, were injured in the fire at the Santika club.

There are suspicions that firecrackers released inside the club may have been the cause of the blaze.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has been to see the charred remains of the building, and met injured victims: The problem was that firecrackers were allowed to be brought inside (the nightclub), that is the issue about which we have to be more cautious and it has to be controlled more strictly,  Abhisit told reporters.

Police said the fire may have been caused by firecrackers brought into the nightclub by guests or sparks flying from a pyrotechnic New Year countdown display. They said most of the victims died from suffocation, but some were also killed in a stampede as party-goers tried to leave the club.

Fire brigade officials said the death toll was high because there were few exits from the building and because windows on the upper floors had iron bars across them.

Police said their initial investigation found the club's safety system was sub-standard but did not elaborate.

Update: Fire  Exits?

2nd January 2009. Based on article from telegraph.co.uk

A British survivor of the Bangkok nightclub inferno described how his life was saved by an "angel" who dragged him to safety after he was overcome by the smoke.

Alex Wargacki lost consciousness as he and 1,000 other people scrambled for the only marked exit from a building which rapidly became a deathtrap as the flames took hold, claiming at least 61 lives.

Wargacki, one of four Britons injured in the blaze, said the walls and ceilings of the Santika club caught fire with terrifying speed after a firework was set off on a stage as partygoers celebrated New Year.

He said: Everyone started running for the door. But the door seemed tiny and people were jammed up against it. If there was another way out, none of us knew about it, and all the windows were barred.

There were flames from the floor to the ceiling. I could hear windows cracking and breaking in the heat. I felt myself going unconscious. I knew something was happening to my lungs. I could not breathe. I blacked out and fell to the floor. I woke up and heard this voice saying. 'Come on. Come on this way'. Then I felt myself being dragged towards an exit. A crowd of people parted in front of me and then I was out in the open air.

Had it not been for this voice with the hand of an angel I would not be alive today. The voice sounded as if he was Thai. Maybe he was one of the people at the New Year's party.


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