Monday, 23 May 2011

Thai police arrest alleged top tiger trafficker

BANGKOK, May 23, 2011 (AFP) - Thai police have arrested an alleged kingpin in what could be the country's largest tiger trafficking ring, a wildlife protection group said Sunday.

Sudjai Chanthawong, a Thai national, was detained on Saturday in the northeastern town of Udon Thani by undercover officers of the nature crime division, according to the Freeland Foundation, which supported the operation.

The gang he is accused of protecting and financing was thought last year "to be responsible for moving up to 1,000 tigers and leopards across the border into Laos and Vietnam in the past decade," Freeland said in a statement.

Sudjai was arrested after police confirmed his bank account was used by the ring to accept payment from undercover officers for the sale of a live tiger last year -- a deal that led to the arrest last May of two other Thai men.

"Thai police are to be congratulated for following the money and finding one of the kingpins involved in cross border wildlife trafficking," said Freeland director Steve Galster.

Sudjai was brought to Bangkok for further questioning on Sunday, while the live tiger that he helped to sell last year, now known as Sylvia, was brought to a police news conference in the capital.

Sylvia, sold in the sting operation as a cub, now weighs almost 100 kilograms (220 pounds) and is kept in a special national park facility caring for seized wildlife in western Ratchaburi province, Freeland told AFP.

Thailand is one of just 13 countries hosting fragile tiger populations, which are on course for outright extinction by 2022, the conservation group WWF warned last year during the Year of the Tiger.

The group said decades of trafficking and habitat destruction had slashed tiger numbers from 100,000 a century ago to just 3,200 today, with the Chinese the world's biggest consumers of tiger products despite global bans.

Thailand is home to some of the world's largest wildlife trafficking operations and Freeland is campaigning for the government to pass stronger laws against them.

Earlier this month, the Thai nature crime police arrested a man whose luggage contained a baby bear, a pair of panthers, two leopards and some monkeys -- all alive -- that he was trying to smuggle out of the country.

The United Arab Emirates national was detained at Bangkok's main airport, attempting to fly first-class to Dubai with the young creatures in his cases.

Thaksin says sister may not become PM even if Pheu Thai wins

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has said that his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, would not become the next prime minister even if the Pheu Thai Party wins the election.

In an exclusive interview with Matichon, Thaksin said he feared that Yingluck would be attacked and destroyed by the Democrat if she became the government leader.

Thaksin said he was considering several PM choices, including Mingkwan Saengsuwan, Pracha Promnok and Yongyuth Wichaidit as well as a few other outsiders.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

THAI to launch own low costairline next year

Thai Airways International (THAI) will operฌate a new super lowcost airline next year, aimed at beating back the challenge from budget carriers and reclaiming passengers back to the national airline.

The announcement comes after the board of directors allowed Ampon Kittiampon to continue as chairman for another threeyear term.

The move is seen as an attempt by the THAI management to pave the way for having its own super lowcost airline despite signing an agreement with Singaporebased Tiger Airways last year to establish a joint venture budget airline. The joint venture, Thai Tiger Airways, is expected to start services this month.

Ampon Kittiampon, chairman of the board of directors, said the board yesterday approved a plan to establish a new lowcost airline as part of its 12year business plan.

The airline has already extended its agreement with Tiger Airways for another three months, from June to August this year, to continue the project.

The agreement extension is to avoid a possible suit by Tiger Airways for violation of the contract.

Ampon said the company would set up a new business unit to run the new lowcost airline. The company plans to start the service in March or April next year.

The new airline can be run without approval from the Ministry of Transport or the Cabinet as it is wholly owned by THAI.

According to sources, some in the internal management want to call the new airline Thai Wings or Thai Silk.

He said the new airline would position itself in the lowest segment, similar to lowcost airlines operating in the market.

"At the moment, THAI maintains its plan to run both Thai Tiger Airways and Thai Wings. However, THAI should keep only the best one in the future," he said.

Thai Wings will operate in the domestic market and regional destinations such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau.

Thai Airways will remain a premium airฌine, Thai Tiger Airways will focus on regional markets and Thai Wings will be a lowcost airline. THAI will use retired pilots for the airฌline and will source cabin crew and staffs from outsource company Wind Span Co - like most other lowcost carriers.

THAI president Piyasvasti Amrannand will head the unit and a new management will take over later.

THAI will utilise its five Boeing 737s, and rent two narrowbodied aircraft for the first year of operations. The new carrier will need 11 aircraft. Each of the aircraft will feature up to 99percent economy class seats, with no business or first class.

Ampon said the company would break even within the first year of operation as the cost is not very high. It expects to achieve a 7080 per cent load factor in the first year.

He added that Nok Air, THAI's lowcost subsidiary, would continue its services.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Yingluck Shinawatra

Yingluck Shinawatra
ยิ่งลักษณ์ ชินวัตร

Born 21 June 1967 (age 43)
San Kamphaeng, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Political party Pheu Thai Party
Spouse(s) Anusorn Amornchat
Children 1
Alma mater Chiang Mai University
Kentucky State University

Yingluck Shinawatra (Thai: ยิ่งลักษณ์ ชินวัตร, RTGS: Yinglak Chinnawat; born 21 June 1967) is the current president of Bangkok-based property developer SC Asset Co., Ltd., and the youngest sister of Thailand's fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. In May 2011, Thailand's opposition Pheu Thai Party -- which maintains close ties with the ousted premier -- nominated Yingluck as their candidate for prime minister in the 2011 elections.

Early life and career

Yingluck is the youngest of nine children from Mr. Lert and Mrs. Yindee Shinawatra (daughter of Princess Jantip (Na Chiangmai) Raminkwong). She graduated with a bachelor's degree from the Faculty of Political Science and Public Administration, Chiang Mai University in 1988 and a master's degree in Political Science from Kentucky State University, United States, in 1990.
Yingluck worked at Shinawatra Directories Co., Ltd. and was the Managing Director of Advanced Info Service PCL, a mobile phone provider formerly controlled by Thaksin, before its sale to investors. She was investigated by Thailand's Securities and Exchange Commission regarding possible insider training after she sold shares of her AIS stock for a profit prior to the sale of the Shin Corporation to Temasek Holdings.
Yingluck is also a committee member and secretary of the Thaicom Foundation. She married Mr. Anusorn Amornchat, Managing Director of Mlink Asia Corporation Co., Ltd. which is her sister's – Yaowapa Wongsawat – company without registration and has one son.

Politics career

Phue Thai Party

After People Power Party, a political party that has a strong tied to ex-Prime Minister Thaksin, had been dissolved by the Constitution Court of Thailand due to the behavior of its executives that violated election law, Thaksin decided to set up another party to be his nominee party to do political activity inside the nation. Since the establishment of the party, Yingluck was among Thaksin’s first choice to be the leader of the party. However, she refused to accept the position saying that she did not want to be the Prime Minister and only wanted to focus on doing her business. She said that she did some political activities only because the party sent an invitation letter for her to join.

Conflict within Phue Thai Party

Prior to the eve of 2011, lots of Phue Thai Party from the group who support Mr.[Mingkwan Sangsuwan] travelled abroad to visit Mr.Thaksin to discuss about Thaksin’s decision to choose Yingluck as no.1 for MP party list candidate. They believed that try pushing people who are directly related with Thaksin would be running against the wall since a big part of Thai of citizens now have strong feeling against him. However, Thaksin remained decision since he believed that the person in the same family would never betray him.

Rise to Prime Minister Candidate

The Pheu Thai Party voted on 16 May to name Yingluck as the party's top candidate under the country's party list system. The vote positions her against Democrat Party member and current Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in the country's national elections, scheduled for 3 July. Even though Yingluck's brother Thaksin won't be on the ballot in 2011, her selection again makes the former premier a major issue in discussions surrounding the future of the Thai premiership. After Yingluck's nomination, Thaksin said that if his sister becomes the next prime minister, it will effectively allow him to control Thai government even though he is currently serving a five-year political ban for electoral fraud. Thaksin has also been living in self-imposed exile since 2008 to avoid a jail sentence after he was convicted of abuse of power.

Campaign for reconcilation

After Yingluck was officially nominated by Phue Thai Party to be the no.1 in party list candidate, which is traditionally means she is PM candidate from Phue Thai Party, she declared her vision as the new leader of the party to public.. One of her main campaigns is reconciliation for all to bring back unity to the nation. Despite her desire for reconciliation, there are two core leaders of Red Shirt Protestors among top 10 list of Phue Thai party list MP candidates, and three core leaders among the top 20 list. Traditionally it is known that the top 20 MP Party list of any party would be those who hold important positions in the cabinet in case that the party wins the election. Those three core leaders are [Jatuporn Prompan], [Nattawut Saikua], and [Weng Tojirakarn]. .All these three protestor leaders faced charge from the Royal Thai Police for their violent verbal on political stage which lead to riots in many parts of the country in 2010. Furthermore, they are being accused for setting up riots which led to several deaths. .Currently, the two leaders except [Jatuporn Prompan] are bailed out of jail with a condition that they must not say anything in public that leads to conflict inside the nation. It is very interesting to see how Yingluck, the youngest sister of Thaksin the man behind the origin of political crisis in Thailand, can create reconciliation while her party plans to set those people who actually created conflicts inside the nation into important positions that suppose to help her driving her reconciliation policy. If Yingluck won the election, Thai people would have an opportunity to see the contrast between Abhisit’s team of unity , which consists of [Anant Panyarachoon] and [Praveth Wasri] who are senior politicians in the country, and Yingluck’s team of unity, which consists of [Jatuporn Prompan], [Weng Tojirakarn], and [Nattawut Saikua].

National Debate

The Democrat Party invited Yingluck Shinawatra on May 15th 2011 to a political debate with its leader, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, as election campaigns are becoming heated on the eve of a general election to be held in Thailand on July 3. . Phue Thai Party declined the invitation. Chalerm Ubomroong, one of Phue Thai Party executives, declared that the national debate is not necessary for Thai politics since it is only used in Presidential elections.

Linking with Red Shirt Protestors

Funding support to the Red Shirts

Yingluck’s bank account was among other 86 bank accounts, that were accused for funding support the Red Shirt protestors during their demonstration in 2010. During their period of time, chaos occurred in every part of the country especially in Bangkok Metropolitan area. Based on the investigation of [Department for Special Investigation], during 28 April 2009 – May 2010, 317 million baht flowed around in her account. 150 baht was deposited while 166 million baht was withdrawn. Especially on 28 April 2010, 144 million baht was withdrawn.  Since 28th April 2010, the chaotic situation went from bad to worse. On 28 April, a fight occurred in Donmung district in Bangkok and 1 soldier was killed. On 7-8 May, two policemen was killed during riot in Saladang district in Bangkok. On 14 May, fight occurred in many parts of Bangkok which led to several deaths. บาดเจ็บ

Scandals and criticisms

Yingluck was said to have helped her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra and sister in-law conceal their wealth. Yingluck received 0.68% of Shin Corp. shares out of the 46.87% that Thaksin and his wife hold in 1999. AEC claimed that Yingluck had made up false transaction and that “there were no real payments for each Ample Rich Co.,Ltd shares sold” and “the transactions were made at a cost basis of par value in order to avoid income taxes, and all the dividends paid out by Shin to those people were transferred to Potjaman's bank accounts”. Yingluck however claimed that “her family has been as a victim of political persecution”.

Yingluck qualified to run: EC

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No charges yet against Pheu Thai No 1; PM questions her pledge to reconcile

Yingluck Shinawatra, the youngest sister of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, is qualified to contest the July 3 general election, the chairman of the Election Commission said yesterday, even though some reports linked her to the seizure of billions of assets belonging to her brother.

EC chief Apichart Sukhagganond said Yingluck, who is Pheu Thai's No 1 party-list candidate, has not yet been charged in any criminal case.

"The trial concerning the seizure of Thaksin's assets in which Khun Yingluck was involved was not a criminal one, but a political one," the chairman said.

Apichart was referring to allegations that Yingluck might have committed perjury when testifying in court in the assets seizure case against her brother. Moreover, an investigation into the perjury case against Yingluck has not yet begun, he said.

As No 1 on Pheu Thai's party list, Yingluck could become Thailand's first woman prime minister if her party wins a majority in the election on July 3. Thaksin, who fled abroad to avoid a two-year jail term on corruption charges and abuse of power, has said she is not his nominee but his "clone".

Meanwhile, Yingluck will today join a major rally in her hometown of Chiang Mai as part of the election campaign. Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva will tomorrow start addressing his supporters live in his weekly programme via social media.

Every Sunday at 8.10pm, Abhisit will talk live through "Abhisit Ch 10" on his Facebook page. It will also be broadcast on the party's Facebook page. The programme will be broadcast through a livestream system that allows the audience to interact in real time, party-list MP candidate Apirak Kosayodhin said.

The Democrat Party has drawn No 10 for the election. The party also launched a Democrat smart-phone application to follow the election campaign. Users of iPhone can download the application and listen to Abhisit's voice promoting the party's policies.

Yingluck yesterday visited people at Bang Kapi market in Bangkok. She received a warm welcome from vendors at the market. Some of them hugged her and many pointed their fingers, mimicking the party's number - No 1.

Yingluck said that if her party were elected, she would revoke the system of selling eggs by weight. However, she said she would keep the Democrats' good policies.

Yingluck cancelled a planned campaign event at Duang Prateep Foundation in Klong Toei to prepare for today's event in Chiang Mai's San Kamphaeng district. Her son Suphasek Amornchat, her brother Payap, her nephew Panthongtae (the son of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra), her brother-in-law Somchai Wongsawat and his family, Pheu Thai leader Yongyuth Wichaidit, deputy leader Plodprasop Suraswadi, Chalerm Yoobamrung and red-shirt leader Natthawut Saikua will join the event.

Abhisit yesterday went to Tha Muang district in Kanchanaburi to promote the farmers' earnings guarantee and free education for children. The audience presented him with garlands and said they would vote for the party.

Abhisit slammed Pheu Thai's policies and said he questioned Yingluck's pledge to push for reconciliation.

"I don't know Yingluck personally. She might be very determined to reconcile but I am afraid of her team. I saw the names on Pheu Thai's party list and I am afraid of Jatuporn Promphan, Natthawut Saikua, Weng Tojirakarn and Vipoothalaeng [Pattana-poomthai]. Even though Arisman [Pongruan-grong] is not qualified, his wife is also in," he said.

Abhisit also visited Wat Rai Khing in Nakhon Pathom during the campaign trail. A group of 20 red-shirt supporters gathered to protest against Abhisit. During his speech, a woman in a red-chested shirt shouted that the Bt360 she received from the government was not enough for a student uniform, which cost Bt400. Another woman named Manatchaya Siripong said she suffered due to the government's crackdown against protesters on April 10 last year.

The Chart Thai Pattana Party yesterday unveiled luk thung singer Boonteung Kaewsinual, aka Monsit Kamsoi, as its MP candidate in Mukdahan's constituency 2, and former Pheu Thai MP Adul Wanchaithanawong as candidate in Mae Hong Son. The Bhum Jai Thai Party unveiled 15 MP candidates for Nakhon Ratchasima, including Boonjong Wongtrairat running in constituency 10.

Two Czechs Wanted For Bank Robbery Arrested By Thai Police

Thai immigration police have arrested two Czechs who are wanted for having robbed a money truck of the Czech central bank in 2008.

Immigration Police Bureau Commissioner Pol Lt Gen Wibul Bangthamai told a press conference that Josef Blazek, 32, and Rudolf Tesarek, 35, have been arrested at Robinson Department Store in Chon Buri's Sriracha district.

Wibul said the two robbed a money truck on January 17 2008 and made off with 3 million euros. They were arrested and sentenced to 12 years in jail but they fled while appealing against the ruling.

Wibul said Thai police learned that the two sneaked into Thailand from Laos in August 2010 and were hunting for them until one of them contacted their Czech wife to meet them at the department store.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Qantas flight in mid-air engine shut down

SYDNEY — A Qantas jet was stranded in Bangkok Friday after crew were forced to shut down one engine, the latest headache for an airline troubled by rising costs and the threat of strikes.

The Boeing 747 carrying 308 passengers had been bound for London, but turned back to the Thai capital shortly after take-off after pilots shut down one of its four engines due to "an increase in vibration and high temperatures".

"The pilots shut down this engine and as a precaution returned to Bangkok," a Qantas spokesman said.

"The aircraft can safely fly on three engines and it had a normal landing in Bangkok not long afterwards.

"We believe the cause is similar to events that other airlines are experiencing and is subject to an increased monitoring program from the manufacturer Rolls Royce."

The incident comes as Qantas faces strike action by some of its employees, including pilots, at the same time as it grapples with high fuel prices and a non-performing international business.

Qantas pilots said Friday the airline was pressuring them to take on less fuel to help save costs, amid an industry belief that long-held fuel allocation ratios should be lowered given improved accuracy in weather and traffic forecasts.

Captain Richard Woodward, vice president of the Australian and International Pilots Association, told ABC radio that Qantas printed out a chart for its pilots showing how much fuel they ordered and how much they landed with.

Woodward said there was a "subtle pressure to make sure that you only carry the minimum necessary."

"They certainly say to us they would prefer not to carry extra fuel because it's outrageously expensive," he added.

On Tuesday a Melbourne-bound flight from Singapore to Melbourne was diverted to Adelaide after crew discovered the Airbus A380 running low on fuel. The plane is thought to have burned more fuel than expected due to bad weather.

Qantas rejected the claim, saying captains were responsible for their fuel order and the airline did not attempt to influence that decision in any way.

"All Qantas flights operate with appropriate fuel based on extremely detailed flight planning and forecast flying conditions," the spokesman said, adding that pilots were encouraged to closely monitor "discretionary fuel uplift".

Thursday, 19 May 2011

NSO: Majority back teen curfew

BANGKOK, 19 May 2011 (NNT) – The majority of Thai people have expressed their agreement with the measure forbidding teens under 18 years of age from leaving their homes after 22.00 hrs, according to a recent survey by the National Statistical Office (NSO).

According to NSO Director Viboondhat Sudhantanakit, 81% of the people surveyed agreed with the mentioned measure while only 18.6% opposed the idea.

The respondents residing in the northern region of the kingdom supported the measure the most, accounting for 87.2%. The rates for the central, southern, northeastern regions and capital city recorded at 85.8%, 85.7%, 85.1% and 72.7% respectively.

The supporters deemed the measure an effective tool to reduce crime involving children and youth in the society as well as help control their behavior. They also wanted the measure to be strictly and constantly enforced throughout the country.

Moreover, the respondents said authorities should find ways to prevent some police officers from lining their pockets on account of the measure.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Pheu Thai announces 20 first party-list candidates

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The Pheu Thai Party Wednesday unveiled the first 20 candidates on its list for the party proportional election.

Pheu Thai spokesman Prompong Nopparit said the party executive board Wednesday approved the list of the first 20 party-list candidates.

Except for Yingluck Shinawatra, the order of party-list candidates might be changed before the list was submitted to the Election Commission on Thursday, Prompong said.

The first 20 party-list candidates of the Pheu Thai are:

1. Yingluck Shinawatra

2. Yongyuth Wichaidit

3. Chalerm Yoobamrung

4. Snoh Thienthong

5. Pracha Promnok

6. Plodprasop Suraswadi

7. Jatuporn Promphan

8. Natthawut Saikua

9. Suchart Thadathamrongwej

10. Chat Kuldilok

11. Jarupong Ruangsuwan

12. Apiwan Wiriyachai

13. Santi Promphat

14. Wiroon Fuensaeng

15. Wiroj Pao-in

16. Weng Tojirakarn

17. Surapong Towijakchaikul

18. Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisal

19. Watana Muangsuk

20. Yutthasak Sasiprapha

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Thailand jungles mask surprise rise in tiger numbers

Experts film previously unknown group on hidden cameras – but loss of habitat and threat from poachers cloud new found hope
    An indochinese tiger in Kuala Lumpur zoo  
    An indochinese tiger in Kuala Lumpur zoo. Hidden cameras have recorded eight so far in Thap Lan national park, but also spotted poachers. Photograph: Jimin Lai/EPA
    Deep in the jungle, armed forest rangers trek through the palms on a mission to confirm some rare good news: the discovery of a wild tiger population in an area of Thap Lan national park previously written off by wildlife experts. Working with foreign conservationists, the rangers have been gathering evidence from camera traps over the past two years that suggests this single national park in Thailand may have more tigers than China. Thap Lan, with its spectacular forests of saw-bladed plan palms, is an oasis of biodiversity amid expanding human development. Elephants, clouded leopards, spotted linsang, boar and deer thrive below the canopy, which is filled with the song of myna, lapwings, laughing thrushes and other exotic birds. Locals have long insisted that tigers also prowl in this area. Camera traps, triggered by heat and movement, have been left strapped to trees for a month. Some have been destroyed by wild elephants or infested by nesting ants, but the memory cards inside have yielded a trove of images of bears, leopards, itinerant monks, as well as tigers and – worryingly – armed poachers. More than half the park has still to be checked, but rangers have already confirmed eight tigers. This is not yet enough to be classified as a sustainable population, but park managers are optimistic more animals will be found. "I'm very happy as this is beyond expectations," said Thap Lan's superintendent, Taywin Meesat. "There are areas deeper inside where we haven't placed camera traps yet. Given the results so far, there could be 20 to 50 tigers here." The conservation group that provided much of the training and equipment for the operation said the results showed a gap in understanding and the need to invest more in research and protection. Tim Redford of Freeland, a Bangkok-based group that helps rangers in south-east Asia, said: "This place was supposed to be devoid of tigers. But we did a course here and were surprised to find signs of tigers. The more we looked, the more we found. That led me to believe the forest must have tigers throughout and there is a big gap in our knowledge of where they live." He called for further studies across countries where other small populations may have been missed. The difficulty of measuring tiger numbers was evident when India increased its estimate by 10% compared with a survey in 2008. The discovery comes amid a fresh global push to reverse a precipitous decline in the numbers of wild tigers, down 97% compared with a century ago. At the St Petersburg tiger summit last year, participants, including the World Bank, NGOs and range states, pledged $329m (£200m) to help double the predators' numbers in the wild from the current level of about 3,200. But the new hope in Thap Lan is mixed with old fears. Thailand is thought to be home to between 250 and 300 wild tigers, but they are vulnerable. The biggest threat is a loss of habitat. Although nominally protected, Thailand's national parks are being encroached upon by human development, particularly monoculture plantations, roads and second homes for Bangkok's rich. Many locals also subsidise their incomes by poaching and illegally logging aloe and tropical hardwood. Park managers and police are worried that poachers and illegal traders would target the tigers once news gets out about their numbers in the area. Rangers mount night patrols and public education campaigns to halt these activities. It can be dangerous work. A Thap Lan ranger was killed in a gun battle with poachers three years ago. In Cambodia, forest protectors have been murdered in hand grenade attacks. The stakes are high. According to conservationists and police, poachers are paid 7,000 to 15,000 baht – £150 to £300 – per kg for a tiger carcass. Middlemen then sell the animals on for about 10 times that amount, mostly to customers in China and Vietnam, where the animal's bones and penis are used in tonics and aphrodisiacs. Yet penalties for wildlife offences remain absurdly low, with fines ranging from 500 to 40,000 baht. Thailand has much to protect. The country is home to some of the most biodiverse tropical forests in south-east Asia. Just two hours from Bangkok, the Guardian's car almost ran over a King Cobra, which expressed its indignation by rearing up angrily and flickering its tongue. Despite this ecological wealth, wildlife crime was a low priority for law enforcement authorities for many years. But there are signs that attitudes may be changing. Thai customs officials have made several high-profile arrests in the past two years, including that of a woman who attempted to smuggle a live baby tiger cub through Bangkok airport in a case full of stuffed animal toys. A sting operation last week apprehended a United Arab Emirates citizen whose belongings concealed two leopards, two panthers, an Asiatic black bear and two macaque monkeys. More impressive still was an undercover operation by the Thai police this year that exposed a large tiger-trading syndicate. Its ringleader, a woman known as "J", remains at large, partly because her husband is a police officer, but investigators said they were closing in. "I believe she may have been selling 100 tigers per year for 10 years," said Colonel Kittipong Khawsamang, deputy head of the wildlife crime division as he leafed through police photographs of tiger carcasses kept on ice. "We know she is a big trader and have been collecting evidence, but we don't yet have enough for a prosecution." Khawsamang said recent raids have shown Thailand has become a hub of the tiger trade, due to its location between other range nations in south-east Asia and China, the main market. The business is also supplied by Thailand's many tiger farms, some of which claim to operate as zoos while covertly breeding animals for sale. The most notorious is the Sri Racha zoo near Pattaya, which police have raided on several occasions, confiscating hundreds of animals. Tourists still flock to watch the farm-bred tigers jump through flaming hoops, suckle at pigs and walk around on their hind legs to the music of the Can-Can and laughter from the audience. Police and conservationists believe "zoos" encourage poaching both as a source of breeding stock and by sustaining the market for tiger products. General Misakawan Buara, commander of Thailand's natural resources and environmental crime division, said: "The problem is, we can only check permits and the inventory, but we can't check which tigers and going in and out because we are police, not animal experts. We need more DNA checks, implanted chips or a tagging system so we can verify the origins of tigers."That – like training and equipping rangers – is not cheap. But little of the money pledged at St Petersberg summit is evident yet at the grass roots, where the budgets for rangers and wildlife police are unchanged "Tiger conservation at the top and the bottom are two different worlds. The people who are high paid researchers and biologists jet-set around the world," said Freeland's Redford. "The rangers are paid almost nothing. They get $50 to $200 a month to go out and face armed poachers. We need to give them every support we can if we expect to keep tigers into the future. "There is not a shortage of money, we just have to get it focused in the right places."

Monday, 16 May 2011

Yingluck's big week

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Pheu Thai set to confirm her as its PM candidate today; to appear in public on Wed

Elusive Yingluck Shinawatra faces a week in the public spotlight. She is scheduled to introduce herself to Pheu Thai members as their prime ministerial hope today and then meet a greater audience yet on Wednesday to speak about her political plans and visions.

The first public appearances by Thaksin Shinawatra's youngest sister will come against the backdrop of an almost contemptuous challenge by the Democrat Party. Abhisit Vejjajiva's party has dared Yingluck to a public debate with him so voters can see who is more qualified to lead Thailand out of its severe political trouble.

Democrat Party spokesman Buranat Samutarak, said yesterday the Democrats welcomed Pheu Thai's move to unveil Yingluck as the No 1 on its party candidate list, a position that makes her Abhisit's rival for top office.

"It's good for people to see choices available to them," he said. Buranat said Abhisit was ready to face Yingluck on any debating stages because both are candidates to be prime minister and their policies will shape the country's future.

Prompong Nopparit, Pheu Thai Party spokesman, said both parties had best focus on policies rather than debate. Debating would not serve the public, but policies would, he claimed.

He said Pheu Thai Party members would endorse their candidate for the No 1 slot on the party-list and the party's candidate for prime minister today by a party vote.

Pheu Thai MP Surapong Tovichakchaikul also said there was no need to rush into a public debate with Abhisit. However, Surapong insisted that Yingluck was a successful businesswoman and she would definitely go to join a debate when she was ready.

Surapong admitted that Yingluck was not an experienced debater. If Abhisit wanted a debate, they could send Natthawut to the stage. "We know Abhisit is very eloquent but his performance is poor. His talking impresses, but his working does not."

A source said Yingluck would attend a general meeting today of the party executive board, which will recommend only one name - her's - for the No 1 slot on the party-list.

After, Yingluck will speak about her political vision, and on Wednesday she will make a public appearance when she reveals her political vision at the Sheraton Grand on Sukhumvit.

If the election ballot was to take place today, the Democrats would defeat Pheu Thai in proportionate votes due to the strength of its campaign policies and the party-list of candidates, Abac Poll said after releasing a nationwide survey yesterday.

In polling of 2,447 respondents in 17 selected provinces representing a nationwide sample, Abac found the Democrats had a clear lead despite a margin of error of about 7 per cent.

The approval rating for the Democrats' record for promoting the merit system soared to 57 per cent, while Pheu Thai scored 35.7 per cent.

The poll found almost 60 per cent were in favour of the Democrat's road map for reconciliation, while 36 per cent opted for that of Pheu Thai.

In regard to policies to quell violence in the South, almost 56 per cent voiced confidence in the Democrats compared to about 37 per cent for Pheu Thai.

About 56 per cent also said the Democrats had better policies on children and youth. Some 38 per cent said they would prefer Pheu Thai's platforms.

The Abac poll gave the Democrats a huge lead on economic policies based on the theory of a sufficiency economy by mustering the support of 58 per cent.

Pheu Thai received a mere 5.9 per cent of the respondents' vote on this.

Some 54 per cent approved Democrat policies related to the armed forces.

Close to 39 per cent were in favour of Pheu Thai military policies.

Almost 53 per cent were in favour of the Democrat's anti-graft policies, followed by about 40 per cent for Pheu Thai's.

On the universal health care scheme, the poll found the Democrats led Pheu Thai by 10 per cent. And they were ahead by more than 10 per cent in regard to policies on energy and farming.

The Abac poll said the Democrats received 45.5 per cent support for its party-list candidates, compared to Pheu Thai's 36.4 per cent.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said yesterday he was confident the Democrats would secure a victory at the ballot under the leadership of Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Prime Minister Abhisit had far more experience than his Pheu Thai rival Yingluck Shinawatra, Suthep said.

"For the past two years, Abhisit has proved capable of steering the country to overcome economic and political crisis while Yingluck has not done anything except appear on the red-shirt rally stage," he said.

Rebutting Suthep's remarks, barred party executive Sudarat Keyuraphan said she believed a female prime minister would have an innate ability to foster compromise and reconciliation.

Sudarat also dismissed speculation that former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra would evade a jail term if Pheu Thai Party won a landslide victory, saying everyone was equal under the law.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Don't let anger over jailings jeopardise vote, reds urged

Red-shirt leaders have warned their members that aggressive movement to free Jatuporn Promphan and Nisit Sinthuprai from jail might jeopardise the July election, which offers a major hope for the group to restore national reconciliation.

"May I convey the message to our members in the entire country that we should not do anything the opponent could use as a pretext to destroy the election," said red-shirt leader Nattawut Saikua.

"It was Jatuporn's will to see the election. Such a good intention should not be undermined. The red shirts should support the election," he said. "We must do our best to have a free and fair election."

Jatuporn and Nisit were jailed on Thursday after their bail on the terrorism charges was revoked by the court over their participation in a street protest on April 10 to commemorate the anniversary of the bloody incidents last year.

Many red shirts have protested strongly against the authorities' jailing of the pair. Jatuporn and Nisit were to be candidates for the opposition Pheu Thai Party in the coming election.

Nattawut said it was a miscalculation to put Jatuporn in jail to spoil the red-shirt movement. The action, on the contrary, would stimulate the movement to become stronger, he said.


Thida Thawornseth, chairwoman of the Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship, said the red shirts would call a rally on May 19 next Thursday to commemorate the anniversary of the bloody events last May at Ratchaprasong Intersection as planned.

The group will make merit to 92 Buddhist monks to recall the deaths of people during the military crackdown last year.

"We will arrange the rally the same as we did last year in the same location to commemorate the incident," she said. "The stage, the scene and the platform for the rally on that day will be exactly the same as last year.

"It will be a huge, peaceful rally to support democracy," Thida said.

The case of Jatuporn and Nisit will not discourage the red shirts, she said. "Those who were born to be the red people should be tolerant. We will convert our pain over the Jatuporn case into our power."

The red shirts will help monitor the election to ensure that it is transparent, free and fair to prevent "powers outside the system" abusing or destroying the election, she said.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva warned the red shirts not to do anything against the law. Jatuporn and Nisit were jailed in the line of law and order, he said.

But Abhisit said he expected that the red shirts' rally next week would not affect the election process, although May 19 is the day for parties to submit their lists of candidates. The rally will be in the afternoon after the lists have been submitted, he said.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Pattaya bus crash on Bang NaTrat kills two

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A Bangkokbound public bus crashed into a pillar on Bang NaTrat Expressway yesterday morning, claiming two lives and injuring 27 passengers

Bus driver Kitisak Piswong, 51, and a female passenger were killed instantly.

Of the 27 injured, six were in serious condition last night. The bus, with several foreigners on board, was heading for Bangkok from Pattaya in Chon Buri province. Initial investigation suggested that the bus driver might have been speeding and had to swerve suddenly to avoid another vehicle, which forced the crash. The bus was totalled in the accident.

Grenade attack targets Pheu Thai worker

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Police believe homemade device probably not intended to kill

In what seems to be becoming customary, preelection violence has begun to escalate. A canvasser for a potential Pheu Thai Party candidate was the target of a grenade attack at her home in Samut Prakan yesterday, three days after veteran MP Pracha Prasobdee of the same party was injured in an assassination attempt.

Somthawil Ruenthong, who is close to potential candidate Worrachai Hema, told police that her pickup truck sustained damage from a grenade lobbed at her house in Bang Phli district early yesterday.

The woman said she received a phone call last month telling her to stop supporting Worrachai but she turned the caller down.

Police said the grenade could be a homemade type and was possibly not intended to kill.

A local politician in Samut Prakan, Mallika Thiansuwan, dismissed rumours that she or her younger brother Weerasak was behind the shooting of Pracha, saying that her family never had conflicts with Pracha, whom she claimed to have met last month.

Referring to Pracha's statement that the mastermind was a son of an influential local politician, Mallika said that although the description matched Weerasak, he had no reason to have conflicts with Pracha, nor was he running in the July 3 general election under the banner of the Bhum Jai Thai Party, which is a rival to Pracha's Pheu Thai, or any other party.

"I don't have any clue about the motive behind the shooting of Pracha. I never crossed a line with him," she added.

Weerasak is now an adviser to the mayor of tambon Phra Sumut Chedi municipality, while Mallika is a former deputy head of the Provincial Administrative Organisation.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said he never "piled up on Pracha's misery" as Pracha claimed on Thursday, by giving any statement in his disfavour after he was shot. Suthep said he could possibly have been misquoted by a third person who conveyed his message to Pracha.

Suthep said violence in politics was not acceptable, and that he had ordered police to treat Pracha's shooting equally well as any crimes or political violent cases, while a police suppression on gunforhire rackets was underway.

He dismissed a statement by Pheu Thai Party MP Jatuporn Promphan that violence was being used and would escalate to prevent the July 3 election from being completed, saying that exaggeration was a habit of Jatuporn's and he would not comment further on the matter.

Doctors at Rama IX Hospital turned down Pracha's request to return home, because his gunshot wound has not completely healed, and yesterday became a bit infected. They said nine bullet fragments in his back did not need to be removed.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Red Shirt News

DAAD to Continue Activities During Election Period

The acting leader of the red-shirt movement has denied reports that ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has asked the group's supporters not to participate in the election activities of the Pheu Thai Party.

Thida Thawornset, caretaker chairperson of the Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship or DAAD, denied reports that former prime minister and de facto leader of the Pheu Thai Party Thaksin Shinawatra has asked red-shirt supporters not to attend the party's election campaign rallies.

She stressed that the the DAAD will continue its regular activities during the election period, and that no members have been advised not to participate in its activities, even those who are candidates in the upcoming poll.

Thida asked red-shirt supporters not to accept money from strangers during the election and to refrain from making accusations without substantiating facts or evidence.

The acting red-shirt leader added that she has advised speakers at rallies not to help promote or campaign for the Pheu Thai Party.

On May 19, the DAAD will host an event to commemorate a one-year anniversary of last year's bloody end to the mass protest at Ratchaprasong Intersection.

The program starts at 4.30 P.M. with an alms-giving ceremony with 92 Buddhist monks, followed by a commemoration for fallen demonstrators.

Regarding a ceremony for political parties to sign a pact organized by the director of Mahidol University's Research Center for Peace, Khothom Areeya, Thida said there is no need for the red-shirt group to take part in the activity as it is not a political party.

She demanded Khothom to get to bottom of the deaths at Pathumwanaram Temple.

Khothom was the one who proposed the designation of the temple as a no-violence area.

Court Revokes Jatuporn's Bail

The Criminal Court has revoked red shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan's bail after he violated bail conditions.

The court also found fellow red shirt supporter Nisit Sintuprai guilty of violating bail conditions as well.

Seven others were released due to lack of evidence.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Yingluck declares her candidacy

Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra,has notified the Pheu Thai Party about her intention to become a party-list candidate.

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Yingluck visited the party on Tuesday to complete her candidacy declaration.

Pheu Thai spokesman Prompong Nopparit said his party will likely unveil its candidate for the position of prime minister by tomorrow.

Prompong and a large number of Pheu Thai MPs hinted that Thaksin had already finalised his decision to endorse Yingluck for the top job.

Yingluck is expected fill the number one slot in the Phue Thai Party list, followed by former Puea Pandin faction leader Pracha Phromnok.

The top ten candidates in the Phue Thai list would include Chalerm Yoobamrung.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Complaints over KFC's 'unfair practices'


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Employees of the KFC fast-food restaurants filed a compliant with the Labour Relations Committee yesterday about alleged unfair employment practices and job termination, revealing that they were given instant noodles and leftovers to eat while the firm earned Bt6 billion a year.

Meanwhile, Yum Restaurants International (Thailand), which runs the KFC and Pizza Hut chain, issued a statement saying that senior executives had directly addressed the issue under the company's "pro-employee" agenda.

And, Milind Pant, managing director of the company, said yesterday in response to the complaint that it treated all the employees fairly, complying with Thai laws.

Former KFC employees Krit Suang-aranan, Siwaporn Somjit and Apantri Charoensak showed up at the committee's offices yesterday to complain that they were let go of unfairly because they had gathered 260 signatures to propose a 10-point demand including a salary rise, a bonus, additional benefits and one free meal a day. The three were accompanied by the vice president of the Thai Labour Solidarity Committee (TLSC), Chaiyasit Suksomboon.

The complainants, who previously supervised 33 KFC branches with 900 workers in Bangkok, Samut Prakan and Pathum Thani, claimed that employees were given an unfair wage of merely Bt27 per hour or Bt5,200 a month.

However, Milind said the company had increased the wages for all part-time employees by 10 per cent since April 4 due to high inflation. So, a part-time employee who worked more than 20 days per month was paid Bt6,500 monthly. Earlier, it announced that it would give 10 per cent incentives to employees based on their store performance late last year.

"We insist that we pay them equal or more than other companies," he added.

For full-time employees, the company had announced it would give them a five per cent salary hike early this year and another four per cent salary hike in June, he said.

"These workers live on instant noodles and leftover fried chicken. Some finish work as late as 1am, and they are not even given any transport allowance," Siwaporn said, adding that this was despite the fact that the company earned between Bt5 billion and Bt6 billion a year.

She added that her group had been forced to resign for allegedly inciting the workers and the company had also posted negative comments about them on its website.

On the other hand, Apantri said the company's lawyers had spoken to them on May 3 and announced unofficially that the company would raise salaries by 4 per cent from June 4, as well as establish a social-security fund for workers from next January.

Chaiyasit, meanwhile, said the company was clearly treating employees unfairly and that the committee would discuss measures such as campaigning for a boycott of KFC food products. They will also file a complaint with the International Labour Organisation, the National Human Rights Commission, the prime minister as well as the Labour Court, he said.

Milind responded that his company had terminated those three former area managers because they violated its code of conduct. They had used the emails of the company to spread false information to other employees in lower positions, such as restaurant managers in a bid to get their support.

He said they claimed they were members of the company's welfare committee even though they were not, and that they persuaded others to support their actions. Being in higher positions and claiming they represented the welfare committee, other lower position employees trusted them.

"Each of the employees is valued. We care for everyone. I don't know who is misguiding them (the three terminated employees)," Milind said.

In a statement, Yum Thailand said that the company had a family of 10,000 workers in 325 restaurants in 72 provinces and that it valued a "pro-employee" environment where employees and the company had a direct relationship.

The statement said that Yum always sought feedback so it could improve its "pro-employee" policies and that it had recently enhanced both short- and long-term benefits for all full-time employees. It added that Yum was committed to complying with the law.

The statement said the management had received a request from some employees who constituted a very small part of the 10,000-strong family, and that senior management had met with the group personally as per the principles of the company's "pro-employee" agenda.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Thaksin: I'll return at end of year

Fugitive expm Thaksin Shinawatra said yesterday he would return to Thailand around November this year to celebrate New Year and declare a second round of the war on drugs.

Thaksin has been at the centre of controversy over the sumฌmary execution of thousands of suspects allegedly relating to the narcotics trade following his warondrugs policy during his administration. He stopped short of saying anything about turning himself in to face fraud and corruption charges after fleeing the country in August 2008.
Thaksin made the remarks during an address to a seminar panel organised by the Pheu Thai Party as part of its election campaign at Wat Sapan in Bangkok's Klong Toey District.

Klong Toey community leader Prateep Ungsongtham asked the Pheu Thai what were the party's antidrug policies and how could it prevent drug smuggling from neighbouring countries without hurting ties with them. Prateep also revealed she had asked young drug sellers: Who supplied the drugs? And they told her state officials did.

Thaksin said he felt sad for some police officers who bought their way to higher posts. "They want to climb [the ladder to promotion] so they seek loans, extort and do whatฌever they can to get money to give to people in Government House. If the Pheu Thai Party gets to form the government, the party will do away with this illpractice,'' he said.

He also said if the Pheu Thai takes the government reins, the party would declare war on drugs for a second round. "We will solve the problem within 12 months. We will start from a soft to hard approach. We will not order police to kill anyone. Police must first stop drug dealing, and witness protection measures are a must, as they would help us obtain informaฌtion. We also need military officials to help solve the problem in an integrated way."

Thaksin said he could talk to neighbouring countries to end problems. "When I was in the government, we had good relationships with our neighbours. If I were still in the government, there would not have been [milฌitary] clashes,'' he said.

"I will definitely come back at the end of this year. Just when my plane touches down at Suvarnabhumi Airport, drug traders will stop trading. We must give officials incentives. Giving them money on the table is better than under the table. Officials want to have integrity but they cannot earn enough to eat. We also take action against large traders and let small drug traders earn a living in the right way by fuelling our economy,'' he said.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Chai Chidchob has warned Thaksin against helping the Pheu Thai in its election campaign since it could result in the party being dissolved.

Chai said people whom the Election Commission has banned from taking part in election campaigning include party executives of dissolved parties. If they helped any party rally for votes, that party faced being dissolved.

"I think Thaksin knows the law. He probably took the opportunity to [ give the advice] before the Royal decree on dissolving the House was announced in the Royal gazette. After that he may try to evade the law or exploit legal loopholes,'' Chai said.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Two drug traffickers, including one American, arrested.

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SA KAEO, May 8 - Two alleged drug traffickers, including an American, have been apprehended in separate incidents after officials seized a large amount of drugs in their possession, police said Sunday.

The 58-year-old US citizen identified as Peter B. Sargent was arrested at Aranyaprathet border checkpoint in Sa Kaeo province after Thai rangers, immigration and tourist police found 17.72 grammes of dried marijuana, 160 packets of foreign cigarettes and 8,043 stimulant and painkiller pills. allegedly in his possession, police said.

He reportedly told police during an investigation that he had bought the seized marijuana and the speed pills in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh for own consumption after he returned to his country. But police did not believe him and sent him for detention at Klong Luek police station.

In a separate incident, police in the northernmost province of Chiang Rai arrested a 54-year-old man identified as Chatchai (alias Mart) Jomkumsing, and seized 20,000 speed pills which he was about to sell to an undercover policeman on a village roadside. The drugs were worth about Bt1.6 million, police said.

Police said Mr Chatchai told them during an investigation that he was a farmer and had decided to become a drug trafficker because he was facing huge debts. He said he received the drug from Muser tribesmen inside Myanmar and then sold it to drug trafficking networks in Bangkok and surrounding provinces

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Thaksin offers easy credit, credit cards for taxi drivers

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Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday promised his taxi-driver vote base he would launch a tax refund campaign for first-time car buyers, credit cards for taxi drivers and personal loans that allow cross guarantees.

Through video-link at Imperial World Lat Phrao, Thaksin and some Pheu Thai MPs listened to problems raised by an audience of taxi and motorcycle taxi drivers and told them how the party would help.

"Farmers will be getting credit cards, now taxi drivers should get them, too," Thaksin said. The credit card would be for fuel costs, Thaksin said, adding that he did not want to give out details for fear that rival parties would copy the policies.

Bangkok MP Anudith Nakornthap said the tax refund campaign would be provided for first-time car buyers, no matter whether the car was for personal use or to be hired. Excise tax would be cut so car prices would fall.

Thaksin gave the example that the cost of a new taxi could be reduced from Bt900,000 to a little over Bt600,000 after the excise tax refund.

Addressing the problem of drivers being unable to get loans to buy taxis as they could not find a guarantor, Thaksin said his policies would allow fellow taxi drivers to cross guarantee for the loans, even though they were all borrowers.

Thaksin said if Pheu Thai formed the government, he would reorganise government agencies and stop the practice of positions being brought, which was corruption that led to officers bullying taxi drivers.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Poll: People demand honesty in new premier

BANGKOK, 6 May 2011 – A recent Suan Dusit Poll indicates that people are longing for a prime minister who is honest and works for the nation while continued political demonstrations after the election is the top concern.

The survey was conducted by Suan Dusit Rajabhat University among 1,343 residents of Bangkok and its vicinities during 1-5 May. The majority of the respondents or 52.08 percent wished for unity and commitment to national administration and development with the new government. Another 29.84 percent preferred to see honesty, transparency, justice, morality and political ethics while 18.08 percent wanted personnel who are well-rounded, capable and widely accepted.

In terms of the new prime minister, 45.10 percent anticipated an honest person who is devoted to serving the nation and the people. 34.57 percent wanted someone with leadership, farsightedness and decisiveness, whereas 20.33 percent hoped for a premier who keeps his promises.

Asked what they were worried about the most during the formation of the government after the poll, 46.04 percent mentioned people’s denial of the result and reoccurrences of political protests and chaos. Another 30.12 percent cited the government’s handling of numerous problems within the country while 23.84 percent pointed out inappropriate behaviors and bickering among politicians.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Thaksin campaigns for Pheu Thai Party

Deposed premier Thaksin Shinawatra, the de-facto leader of the opposition Pheu Thai Party, yesterday promised the Thai-Chinese Chamber of Commerce that if the party is elected and forms the new government, he will support the development of business owners and boost the purchasing power of workers.

Thaksin spent hours listening and talking to the chamber members through an Internet video link at a Bangkok hotel.

He said measures such as a low-tax regime, sovereign wealth fund, easier visa requirements for tourists and a hike in the minimum wage to Bt300 a day will be a boon to the economy and society. He vowed to make Thailand a trade and travel hub of the region, not unlike Dubai in the Middle East.

He would gradually lower the income tax over two years from 30 per cent to 20 per cent, arguing that this, along with the higher minimum wage, would lead to stronger domestic purchasing power and higher value-added tax receipts through larger and larger cycles of consumption.

"Today, countries with problems are those with high taxes," said Thaksin, who resides in Dubai after being convicted in Thailand.

While trying to promise whatever business leaders from the chambers asked for, Thaksin mentioned his pet project - developing a city on reclaimed land somewhere on the Gulf of Thailand that would be about half the size of Phuket or 200,000 rai.

The project would be self-supporting because half of the land would be put up for sale at Bt12,500 per square wah while the other half would be occupied by government buildings, public parks, beach roads, a wind farm to generate electricity and more.

"Whatever we do not have or cannot build in Bangkok will be constructed there," he said.

Other ideas floated by Thaksin in an attempt to win support from the members of the Chamber of Commerce were

- Make Don Mueang an airport hub for private jets

- Further penetrate the Chinese and Indian markets

- Set up training centres for Thai workers and factory workers offering courses and loans for the courses to be repaid later in instalments

- Organise and legalise migrant workers from neighbouring countries

-Build 10 more electric train lines and dual-track railroads linking Bangkok and its vicinity

Thaksin, who admitted to being "hyperactive" during the videoconference, did not fail to attack political enemies, however.

Corruption is now rampant and many politicians are used to getting 30-per-cent kickbacks, he said.

Thaksin also claimed that just before the military coup on September 19, 2006, a Singapore agency held a meeting to discuss the competition from the yet-to-be opened Suvarnabhumi Airport.

"But they stopped the meeting after learning that I was ousted, saying the place could no longer be a hub now that Thaksin was gone."

Thai-Cambodian border clashes break brief ceasefire as death toll rises

At least 16 dead in violence that has caused nearly 100,000 villagers to flee disputed area
    thai cambodian clashes
    A Thai child who fled clashes between Thai and Cambodian soldiers at an evacuation center in Surin province, northeastern Thailand. 
    Thai and Cambodian troops broke a brief ceasefire and clashed for an eighth day, shattering hopes of a quick end to a long-running border conflict that has forced nearly 100,000 villagers to flee. The death toll rose to 16. Fighting erupted in the morning and again briefly on Friday night, both countries' troops said, as displaced residents on each side waited to see if the worst skirmishes in years might finally end. "I wish both sides could talk, so that there is no more fighting," said Boonteung Somsed, a Thai construction worker who fled to the village of Prasat, about 20 miles from the border. "Every time a soldier picks up a weapon, a village has to run away from home." Thailand and Cambodia have clashed six times since 2008 over the border, where several crumbling Hindu temples built nearly 1,000 years ago during the Khmer Empire sit atop cliffs and in jungles mined in wars past. The land has been disputed for more than half a century, but analysts say domestic politics on both sides are driving the conflict as much as any real disagreement between the countries. Field commanders agreed to the brief truce on Thursday in a meeting at the disputed border. But a Cambodian colonel, Suos Sothea, said the Thai army again fired artillery shells into Cambodia early Friday and small arms fire crackled again around the Ta Krabey temple, which is in a disputed area. "We cannot trust the Thais," he said. "Yesterday they said they'd stop fighting and now they are attacking us again." Thai army spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd blamed Cambodia for breaking the deal, saying its "local units might not agree to the talks as easily as their commanders did." He told reporters in Bangkok the Thai army sent a 10-member delegation of middle-ranking officers across the border ito meet their Cambodian counterparts again. "The first step is to sustain the truce, then we can take further steps for talks," he said. The director of Phanom Dongrak hospital, about 12 miles from the border, confirmed one Thai soldier was killed late Thursday, bringing the total dead to 15 soldiers and one civilian. Thai authorities say the fighting has uprooted 51,000 people from their homes while Cambodia's Red Cross says more than 45,000 people there have fled over the past week. "I want both countries to stop fighting, so that I can go home," said Saman Yingnaram, 37, a farmer in Prasat. "My cassava field will be sabotaged (by insects) by the time I return." On Thursday, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said his Thai counterpart had agreed to allow Indonesian observers, but there was no word on when they would arrive. Cambodia had already agreed to the deployment. Indonesia, which currently chairs the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, offered to provide the observers after the last round of fighting in February. Few believe the conflict will lead to full-scale war and neither side appears to be trying to capture territory. Some believe Thailand's military fears the possible outcome of elections expected in June or July and is trying to rally Thais behind it. Thai media have suggested Cambodia's Hun Sen, who has been in power since 1985, was fomenting border tensions to distract his public.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Why Thailand's king is so revered

Not much can bring the life of the noisy, traffic-clogged heart of Bangkok to a halt. 
But on Wednesday 5 December 2007 the streets were hushed, the cars and buses banished.
All you could hear were speakers playing the royal anthem, and thousands of flags fluttering in the breeze, held by people of all ages.
Most were dressed in yellow and had waited for hours for a glimpse of a stiff and stern-faced old man passing in a motorcade, on his way to the gilded halls and temples of Bangkok's Grand Palace.
And as it passed they shouted "Song Phra Charoen", "Long Live Your Majesty". Some had tears in their eyes.
What explains this extraordinary bond between people and monarch?
King Bhumibol Adulyadej is accorded an almost divine reverence, with titles like Phra Chao Yu Hua (Lord Upon our Heads) or Chao Chiwit (Lord of Life).
People prostrate themselves on the ground in his presence. Yet there is genuine affection too, and it goes both ways.
Thais talk of their love for him as though he were a cherished member of the family.
In his speeches to the nation he likes to joke and tease them.
Public relations
King Bhumibol leaving hospital in a pink suit (07/11/2007)
Pink clothing sales rocketed when the king left hospital in a pink suit

Earlier in his reign when he was younger and travelled a lot, he clearly enjoyed meeting and mixing with people from the poorest rural communities.
People often refer to his long life of service to the nation, to his experiments with agriculture and irrigation, many of them carried out on the grounds of his palace in Bangkok.
The formidable public relations machine which manages the monarchy's image makes much of these experiments, as it does of the king's other talents as a jazz musician and sailor.
But the real measure of these achievements is impossible to know in a country where all criticism of the monarchy is curtailed by the draconian lese majeste law (offence against the dignity of the monarch), and only lavish praise for the royal family can be published.
The reverence for the king seems rooted in something less worldly.
Time after time when Thais are asked about the virtues of King Bhumibol they refer to his proper adherence to the principles of "Dhamma", Buddhist teachings and the Buddhist concept of righteousness.
Our political system has been unstable all the time. So whenever there is a political crisis people expect the King to solve the problem
Prof Suchit Bunbongkarn

It is not just his practical deeds they are looking at, but his manner, his modesty, his reserve, his gentleness, and his apparent detachment from the world - qualities he has worked hard to perfect and project.
He is as much a spiritual leader as a worldly one.
During his six decades on the throne Thailand has undergone changes as wrenching as in any other country.
Per capita income has gone up 40-fold. An almost entirely agrarian society has become a substantially urban one. The economy has been swept along by the forces of globalisation.
Political upheaval
There have been other changes as well.
Tanks leaving the Royal Plaza (Sept 2006)
The king's endorsement of the coup was essential to its success

This king has reigned through 17 military coups and 26 prime ministers. The gap between rich and poor has widened, with conspicuous consumption and conspicuous corruption accepted as part of everyday life.
There has been a corresponding decline in traditional community and family values.
Amid this whirlwind, the king has remained a reassuring anchor, a man who embodies Thailand's history but who has also come to embody integrity and detachment from the squalid realities of day-to-day politics and business.
He has lived the myth of the virtuous monarch so well that almost the entire population believes in it and takes comfort from it.
And it gives him a unique moral authority. When he speaks, people listen.
They may, and often do, fail to act on his advice. But he has been able to use that authority to settle a number of political crises.
I want to be making suits for him when he is 90 years old, when he is 100 - longer even."
Sompop Louilarpprasert
King Bhumibol's tailor

"If the country were in good shape politically, then the role of the constitutional monarch is not very difficult," explains Suchit Bunbongkarn, professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University.
"But in the case of Thailand it is not easy because our political system has been unstable all the time. So whenever there is a political crisis people expect the king to solve the problem."
Former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun describes King Bhumibol's authority as "reserve power" that, because it has been used judiciously and sparingly, has been decisive in maintaining the country's stability.
This power, he says, has been accumulated through a life of dedication to his job. It cannot, he points out, be inherited or passed on.
Fears and superstition
Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn offers saffron cloth to monks in Bangkok (05/11/2007)
There is quiet concern about the abilities of the heir to the throne

That explains the acute anxiety now over the king's fragile health. Few imagine that any future monarch can match this one.
There are many reservations about the capabilities of his presumed heir, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, although these cannot be expressed publicly because of the lese majeste laws.
The succession itself is not completely clear, with the constitution leaving considerable powers to designate an heir to the 19-member Privy Council of senior advisors to the king.
The opacity that has preserved the mystique of monarchy in Thailand makes it impossible to discuss, let alone plan for the succession.
So Thais prefer not to think about it.
When I saw his tailor, Sompop Louilarpprasert, and asked him about the king's recent spell in hospital, he brushed it aside.
"I want to be making suits for him when he is 90 years old, when he is 100 - longer even."
It was Sompop who made the dazzling pink blazer the king wore when he came out of hospital.
Within hours, pink shirts were being sold in their thousands across the country, and there are days when some streets are a sea of pink.
In this superstitious country they now associate pink with the king's recovery. It will bring him good fortune, they say.

By wearing it they are literally willing him to stay alive for them.

Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej to have lumbar puncture

Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Bangkok (Dec 2010) King Bhumibol is credited with intervening to resolve political crises in Thailand
Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej is to undergo a lumbar puncture procedure, the Royal Household has said in a rare statement on the monarch's health.
Doctors said the procedure, also known as a spinal tap, would drain excess fluid on the king's spine which was causing unsteadiness when he walked.
King Bhumibol, who is 83, is hugely respected in Thailand and has been the country's unifying figure for decades.
He has mostly been in hospital since 2009, making occasional short trips.
The Thai Royal Household said the king had recovered from the lung infection for which he was originally taken to hospital, but had remained in hospital for rehabilitation and nourishment.
In a statement, the household said the lumbar puncture was a common procedure for elderly people and would take place on Monday night.
King Bhumibol is the world's longest reigning monarch.
He has no official political role but has been credited with intervening at moments of acute political tension to find a non-violent resolution.
There is near universal affection for him among the Thai public but the country also has harsh "lese-majeste" laws which punish any criticism of the monarchy with up to 15 years in prison.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Thailand-Cambodia: Villagers return as clashes ease

Thai refugees head back to their border homes on 1 May 2011 Local people have been staying in camps and temples to avoid the fighting
Civilians who fled fighting between Thailand and Cambodia have begun returning home, as 10 days of border clashes eased.
Tens of thousands of villagers had been staying in temporary camps and temples as troops exchanged artillery fire in jungle areas both sides claim.
A truce agreed on 28 April did not end the fighting but reduced its intensity.
The clashes, which began on 22 April, have killed 17 people, including one civilian.
"These people have returned to their houses because the situation now is calm," said Pech Sokhen, the governor of Cambodia's Oddar Meanchey province.
"I hope that the fighting between the two sides will keep decreasing over time."
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva confirmed people were returning to their villages. "The military will monitor the border. We will remain very careful," he said.
The fighting has not stopped completely. A Cambodian commander said Thai shelling continued on Sunday night, while a Thai commander said the two sides exchanged automatic fire - but reports say it is confined to smaller areas.

It has centred around the two temples of Ta Moan and Ta Krabey, which sit in a hilly jungle area that both sides say belongs to them.
Clashes were also reported last week at the hill-top temple of Preah Vihear, a flashpoint for the dispute.
Parts of the Thai-Cambodian border have never been formally demarcated, spurring nationalist sentiment in both countries.
Fighting took place three years ago in the run-up to a general election in Cambodia, and this latest outbreak comes with the Thai government due to call an election in the coming days.

Widespread corruption undermining business, causing companies to invest money elsewhere

Few firms caught for bribery and illegal acts, researcher tells panel; fears for impact on development

Bribery, red tape and corruption have to be reduced before Thailand becomes non-competitive and unsuitable for many corporations, which would seek to invest elsewhere, a roundtable on corporate good governance concluded last week.Building a climate of good governance will take years and will also require the government to be less corrupt than it is, said the panellists at the seminar organised by Krungthep Turakij, a sister daily of The Nation.

Big multinational corporations with their own codes of conduct may claim they no longer bribe politicians or bureaucrats. But if the climate is such that it demands bribes or bribes are offered by their competitors, these corporations may lose out given the lack of a level playing field, warned Deunden Nikomborirak, a specialist in economic governance at the Thailand Development Research Institute.

"If the demand [for bribes] continue, it's either you leave or you comply," Deunden said. "There can be no level playing field if competitors do not stick to integrity."

Deunden's recent research revealed that out of the more than 200 cases of illegal practises by firms listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand from 1999-2010, those punished were just slightly over 5 per cent.

Many of these cases involved fraud worth Bt3 billion-Bt4 billion, and given the low rate of punishment and fines, which on average amounts to Bt500,000-Bt1 million, it all seems worth the risk to break the law, she said.

If offenders are not punished, the economy will find it hard to thrive, as laws and regulations fail to stem the violations, fraud and corruption.

On the other hand, in many instances governments tend to pass regulations for bidding on contracts or concessions that clearly favour a certain well-connected corporation.

"It means in this country, there is no genuine free competition," she said.

Such a situation ensures that more firms will have to seek illegal shortcuts to win contracts with the state or lose out on work.

"This is troubling because it undermines the overall economic outlook," she said.

As long as there is no political will among politicians and the country as a whole, the problem will fester. Just having a prime minister with a good image is not good enough.

"The reform that would address corruption must come from a sense of ownership [by society] and not from outside, otherwise no one will buy in," she said.

Participation is also needed.

Corrupt politicians would naturally resist reform but many more preventive measures can first be introduced, especially related to conflict of interest.

"Nobody will be jailed yet but it will have an impact," she said. "There's still a huge amount of problems relating to transparency and conflict of interest in the public sector."

It's still legal for a minister here to endorse a contract with a bidding firm that is owned by the minister's son or daughter, she said.

Another key measure would be to strengthen access to news and information by the population. In South Korea, where fighting corruption and instilling good governance practices have made impressive inroads, the broadband Internet penetration rate is 90 per cent. This combined with affluence among most people ensures that corruption and bad governance is becoming more of an exception rather than the norm in South Korea, she added.

Hilde Tonne, deputy head of Telenor Group, which runs the DTAC cellular company, said broadband penetration here is a dismal 10 per cent.

"And there's a reason for that," she said.

Ready and speedy access to news and information is crucial for the anticorruption drive, she added.

Pisawan Achanapornkul, president of Shell Thailand, was more optimistic.

Gathering from what Deunden said, it appears that at least there is an understanding as to what is the root of the problem that Thailand is facing. "It's good. That would be crucial," she said.

Business leaders and all Thais should think about how to move forward effectively by asking themselves a few questions, she said.

"Would you like to see Thailand as a backward country? Even at the Southeast Asian level? Is this how we like to see Thailand?"

If the situation continues, Thailand runs a real risk of seeing foreign investors leave due to the lack of a level playing field.

"We're not alone and just competing with ourselves. We have to compete with other nations," she said.

If the government continues to lack political will, perhaps the public should be mobilised to pressure the government to come up with the will, she added.

Manu Sawangchaeng, country manager for Pfizer, the American producer of Viagra, said corporations and business leaders who care about the issue must try to lead the way and put the issue on the political agenda within a year or two. Organisations can help, such as the Institute of Directors, which supports good governance in business and politics.

"We should be able to see some results in two years," he said.