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 2009: Jan-March
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16th June   

Suppressing a Sneeze...

Melon farming Fresh
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Melon Farming Fresh

 

Controlling flu statistics
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Pig flu disinfaction in Walking Street 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.

 

25th March   

Updated: Wat Troops?...

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Cambodia claims incursion of Thai troops
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Preah Vihear temple Thai soldiers have reportedly entered Cambodia near a disputed temple where the two sides briefly exchanged fire last year.

A spokesman for Cambodia's government said that about 100 troops had crossed the border.

A Thai border commander denied there had been any troop movements and said there had been no increase in tension.

Thailand and Cambodia both lay claim to the temple area. Despite several rounds of talks, a settlement remains elusive.

Soldiers from the two countries have been stationed in the area since the clashes in July last year.

Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan told reporters that Thai troops had gone about a kilometre into Cambodian territory: We are negotiating with their commanders to ask them to leave the area now because it is Cambodian territory .

 

19th March   

Up To Them...

Thailand considers greater autonomy and sharia law for the southern provinces
Link Here

Thailand flag A Thai government policy review of the largely Muslim southern provinces is considering granting greater local autonomy with reforms including introduction of Sharia Law through Islamic courts. The strategy is part of efforts to bring to an end a five-year insurgency that has cost more than 3,000 lives.

The policy review began soon after the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva came to office in December. Speaking to foreign correspondents earlier this year, Abhsit set out the government's policy goals: The only long-term solution must be done through a comprehensive package that covers well beyond the security dimensions, but also addresses the issues such as economic development as well as addressing education and cultural diversity in the provinces," he said.

The government plan includes setting up a special office headed by a minister in charge of affairs in the Southern provinces.

A Thai government review paper, an English translated copy of which was obtained by VOA, says people in the region consider themselves Pattani Malays rather than Thai.

The review paper calls on government to adopt a strategy that is largely peaceful and suggests a military solution will fail to win local community support, even if it succeeds in imposing control.

Policy review options include a specially elected local chamber of government, the partial application of Islamic Sharia Law through Islamic Courts and local administrative organizations based on Muslim community leadership. It also calls for security forces and government officials to be selected from the local Southern community or have language, cultural and knowledge of local customs and traditions before being posted.

 

13th March   

Dry Songkran...

Songkran to be dry, hopefully not totally
Link Here

No Alcohol sign 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

British Embassy logo 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

Chiang Mai protestor 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

Waterboarding 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.

 

25th February   

Thai Dry...

Songkran to be dry for Thais but Wet for the rest
Link Here

The unofficial word is out. Alcohol sales are to be banned on Songkran Holidays from the 13th to the 15th of April this year.

Public Health Minister said the ban may be limited to certain areas with high risk and only during certain time frames.

The Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control Director Samarn Futrakul said that after receiving suggestions from consultants of the Public Health Ministry, the office has unofficially decided that alcohol sales, only to Thai consumers, would be banned from April 13th to 15th this year.

Meanwhile, sales to foreign consumers will be allowed as usual. Director Samarn said Public Health Minister Wittaya Kaewpradai will review the policies before making the official announcement.

Moreover, roadblocks to arrest drunk drivers were found to be effective in reducing motor accidents during the holidays. Alcohol sales in areas where the most motor vehicle accidents occur will also be banned around times of heavy traffic. Policies will be evaluated and reviewed for next year.

If the unofficial decision is approved by Minister Wittaya, it still needs to be approved by the National Alcohol Control Policy Committee, of which the Prime Minister is Chairman, before it is officially announced by the Office of the Prime Minister.

 

25th February   

Reds at Government House...

More political rallying in Bangkok
Link Here

Red Shirts Thousands of supporters of the ousted Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra surrounded government buildings in Bangkok calling for fresh elections.

The red-shirted protesters said that they would stage a three-day sit-in to put pressure on Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Prime Minister, to dissolve his Government.

Demonstrators shouting: We don't want this Government broke through barbed-wire barricades manned by hundreds of police and soldiers and took control of the roads around Government House.

Members of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) have campaigned against the Government since a court dissolved the pro-Thaksin ruling party in December, paving the way for Eton-educated Abhisit to take power.

One of the protest leaders, Shinawat Haboonpad, said that the Red Shirts would stay at Government House at least until Thursday.

Police said that about 10,000 flag-waving protesters dressed in crimson T-shirts had massed outside Government House.

 

24th February   

Thailand Shrinks...

Thailand's economy joins the world's depressed
Link Here

NESDB banner Thailand's economy shrank at a record pace in the last three months of 2008 amid plummeting exports and tourism.

The economy shrank 6.1% in the October to December period from the previous quarter, the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) said.

This was the largest contraction since records began in 1993. The NESDB said the economy might contract 1% in 2009.

The export-oriented Asian economy has been hit by the global downturn and political unrest at the end of 2008. Anti-government protesters shut down Bangkok's airports, hitting tourism, one of the key sectors of the economy.

Exports, which account for more than 60% of Thailand's gross domestic product, dropped 9.4%. The NESDB also forecast that exports would fall 13.1% in 2009 after growing by 16.8% in 2008.

Carl Rajoo, an economist at Forecast, said: The numbers are bad, and well below market and government expectations. While we have been consistently expecting weakness in economic growth, the extremely sharp drop in manufacturing and trade data towards the year-end came as a surprise to everyone, indicating the clear susceptibility of the nation to external demand pressures.

 

20th February   

Siam Sunray...

A cocktail of measures to attract tourists back to Thailand
Link Here

Lady Drinks When tourism has taken a self-inflicted battering, the temptation might be to have a drink to drown your sorrows.

Thailand is going a step further: it has invented a new national cocktail, which it hopes will help visitors forget the hangover from the disastrous airport shutdowns late last year.

Intended as an answer to Singapore's slings, Cuba's mojitos and the many manhattans downed in New York, the Siam sunray is intended to give tourists an instant taste of Thailand's charms.

A shot of vodka, coconut liqueur, a dash of chilli pepper and sugar, lime juice, a few slivers of lemongrass and ginger, with the whole mixture shaken then strained into a glass with ice and soda water.

Thailand's tourism authority formally rolled out the drink yesterday, grandly styling the concoction Thailand in a glass: the new punch in Thai tourism.

Meanwhile in the real World:

Thailand's rights reputation in the sewer

Based on article from upiasia.com

The Asian Legal Resource Center submitted a statement to the Human Rights Council that has painted the bleakest picture yet of denied rights and declining rule of law in Thailand during the past few years.

According to the Hong Kong-based group, Thailand is now in real danger of turning back into an internal-security state. The center's indicators include the repeated overthrow of elected governments by antidemocratic forces, large-scale public criminal activity with impunity, Internet censorship and the lese-majesty witch-hunt, threats to human rights defenders, and forced repatriation and murder on the high seas.

 

16th February   

Googling for Gobbledygook...

Google adds Thai to its language translations
Link Here

Google Thai logo Google has added Thai to the beta version of its free translation website translate.google.co.th now making it possible to translate 42 languages to and from Thai.

With these free tools, Thai-speaking users can translate anything from whole websites down to single words. They can also use keywords to search for web pages and have the results automatically translated back into Thai. In addition, Thai-language website owners can get a gadget that will instantly translate their sites into 42 languages.

 

15th February   

Airport Link Skytrain...

Opening date August 12 2009
Link Here

Skytrain 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

Flood 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

Thai Police logo 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

red shirts 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.

 

29th January   

Not So Elite...

Thailand to end the Elite Card
Link Here

Elite card The loss-making Thailand Elite Card, launched in 2003 to lure wealthy tourists and business people to Thailand, will be scrapped, a government spokesman said. Only 2,570 were members in 2008.

 

28th January   

Police Custody...

Thailand changes approach to Burmese boat people
Link Here

Thai naval emblem The latest boatload of Burmese migrants to arrive in Thailand has been handed to the police rather than the military, after an outcry over their treatment.

The Thai military picked up 78 Rohingya boat people, who are Burmese Muslims, and handed them to the police.

It follows claims from other Rohingya, washed up in Indonesia and elsewhere, that the Thai military had beaten them and sent them back to sea.

It is thought almost 1,000 have been set adrift - with hundreds feared dead. CNN obtained pictures of engineless boats being towed out to sea with refugees on board.

The Rohingya are fleeing persecution in their home country, where they are denied citizenship by the government.

Our correspondent in Thailand, Jonathan Head, says the most recent group are the very picture of misery. He says they are exhausted and emaciated and several are carrying vivid scars across their backs - which they say are the result of being whipped by the Burmese navy as they left, as a warning not to come back.

Our correspondent says the fact they have been handed to the police means they should be processed by the courts - and if they are deported it is likely to be in a more humane manner than the way many have been expelled by the military.

Thailand's new government says it is trying to establish exactly what happened, but our correspondent says the government is getting little co-operation from the armed forces.

Senior military officers have denied such mistreatment is even possible, and have accused the foreign media of trying to tarnish Thailand's international image, our correspondent adds.

 

25th January   

More Cast Adrift...

Illegal immigrants cast out to sea
Link Here

Thai naval emblem Thailand says 126 asylum-seekers from the Burmese Rohingya minority who were detained by the military a week ago have been sent back out to sea.

The UN Refugee Agency asked to see the detainees three days ago, but never received a response.

Last month almost 1,000 Rohingyas were detained and then towed out to sea by Thai security forces in boats with little food and no motors.

Hundreds of survivors have been rescued, but hundreds more are missing.

Less than a month after taking office the new Thai government is struggling to manage a public relations disaster caused by the treatment meted out by Thai military units to Rohingya boat people last month.

Top military commanders have denied mistreating any of the Rohingyas, but testimony from exhausted survivors who washed up in India and Indonesia have given a very different picture. They say they were packed onto boats with no motors, then set adrift on the high seas with little food or water.

The UN has been trying to get information about a group of 126 who arrived in Thailand a week ago - but has so far been denied access to them. Now it is being told they too have been sent back out to sea - although under what conditions is not clear.

Human rights groups fear they too may have suffered the same fate as the previous groups.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has assured them illegal migrants will be treated humanely, but he appears to have little control over how the military deals with them.

 

16th January   

Cast Adrift...

Illegal immigrants cast out to sea
Link Here

Thai naval emblem 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

TAT logo 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

Election poster 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

plane taking off 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

Santika Pub 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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