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High-tech vote buying

Posted by hasekamp on 31 January 2005 at 12:20 PM
Vote-buying appears to be all over the country, ahead of next Sunday’s general election with several new methods gaining popularity, an Election Commission (EC) source said yesterday. Among the new strategies are the use of a direct-sales-style pyramid scheme to “buy” canvassers, buying the votes of employees at small companies and buying the votes of entire families. Some campaigns are also requiring voters to use camera phones to take a photo of their ballot as proof of their vote, the source said. The EC, which has been flooded with complaints, will consider 16 cases of alleged electoral fraud today and another 10 cases tomorrow, said EC secretary-general Ekkachai Waroonprapha.
In general, candidates are turning to more subtle vote-buying methods in the run-up to the election with the direct sales-style practice of buying canvassers being an especially popular tactic, the EC source said. Under this method candidates engaged in vote-buying would try to win the support of major canvassers, who in turn would try to win the support of smaller canvassers, who then would be dispatched to find even lower-tier canvassers in the pyramidal structure common to direct-sales campaigns. A major canvasser is required to recruit 10 smaller canvassers and each of the smaller canvassers in turn has to recruit another 10 canvassers and so on. They are paid according to their level of success in recruiting subordinate canvassers, the source said.
The EC had also found that some small firms had received lump sums to parcel out to their workers if they were willing to vote for a particular candidate. “Most employees would feel obliged to vote for a particular candidate on the order of their bosses,” the source said, adding that this tactic had been used in Bangkok and some major provinces.
The EC did not prohibit people from carrying camera phones into voting booths, but anyone discovered taking photos of ballots would be arrested and charged by police. “We will take legal action against anyone seen taking photos of ballots because the law requires balloting to be done in secret,” he said.
Several vote buyers also planned to fork out money during the night preceding the election day, or else on the morning to convince voters already bought by other candidates to change their minds, he said.
In one sentence: Vote buying is as vivid as it was at the laste elections. Corruption has not yet been fought successfully in Thailand, it appears. Or is the reason thet in this case the main poitical party in the government (Thai Rak Thai) is participating in the game? (Source: The Nation)


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Subway ready to start again

Posted by hasekamp on 31 January 2005 at 12:11 PM
More than six million baht has been spent on getting the subway ready for its re-opening tomorrow. Executives of the Mass Rapid Transit Authority (MRTA) and Bangkok Metro Co, Ltd (BMCL) took a trial trip on the train yesterday. The MRTA governor said three days of test runs using empty trains, between 6am and midnight, will precede the reopening. BMCL had spent six million baht over the last two weeks on the rails and signalling system at the Thailand Cultural Centre station. Station staff has also undertaken intensive training to prepare for emergencies such as fire and bomb threats. Experts from Germany have been hired to monitor the system for at least the next six months. Staff at the control centre, drivers and station officers will now be screened by state agencies rather than private operators as previously. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is due to make a trial run on one of the trains today. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Pre-voting for general election

Posted by hasekamp on 30 January 2005 at 12:34 PM
Selected polling stations nationwide opened yesterday for a total of 305,554 voters to cast their ballots ahead of the February 6 general election. This portion of the electorate had registered in advance with good reasons for being unable to vote on election day. Today is the final day for advance voting. The secretary-general of the Election Commission said the first day’s turnout of voters in absentee ballots appeared to be higher than that of the last general election four years ago. A woman, expectred to give birth on elaction day, the Olympic weightlifting team, attending a weightlifting camp ahead of the Manila SEA Games in November and government officials and election workers were among the early voters, including soldiers engaged in Lop Buri, Sa Kaew, Kanchanaburi and Nakhon Ratchasima. (Source: The Nation)


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Tsunami warning system not in Thailand

Posted by hasekamp on 30 January 2005 at 12:27 PM
Thailand yesterday failed to become the regional centre for a tsunami early warning system, since India and Indonesia also wanted to play host and international delegates at the tsunami conference opted in the end for smaller facilities in several countries to help prevent future catastrophes. Australia, Indonesia and India mounted strong opposition to the Thai proposal to make the Pathum Thani-based Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre (ADPC) the regional centre. In the end a compromise was reached, with recognition of the ADPC as a focal point for a multi-node tsunami early warning arrangement in the region, working together with relevant national and regional institutions such as those in Indonesia, Singapore, Japan and India. This arrangement shall be developed within the UN's international strategy coordinated by its Intergovernmental Oceanographic Organisation (IOC) under Unesco. Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai clarified that, to avoid duplications of efforts, the UN role was crucial.
The meeting gathered delegates from 57 countries and agencies to hash out how to create a network that would quickly warn nations of a coming tsunami so coastal areas could be evacuated. It followed a broader meeting in Japan earlier this month. A tsunami warning system has operated for decades in the Pacific Ocean, where a centre in Hawaii issues alerts to 26 nations. An Indian Ocean warning system is expected to be in place within 18 months. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Fraude complaints regarding elections

Posted by hasekamp on 28 January 2005 at 12:47 PM
One would almost forget that there will be general elections on 6 February, with al the news about the tsunami and its aftermath. But they are coming real soon now and reports about fraud are coming in. Candidates in 15 constituencies nationwide have been accused of election law violations. The Election Commission (EC) secretary-general said 17 complaints had already been lodged about poll violations involving candidates in 15 constituencies. Yellow or red cards would be issued to candidates found to have breached the election law. The EC would speed up inquiries into alleged violations in Krabi, Satun, Songkhla and Samut Prakan provinces, he said. No complaints of poll fraud had been lodged against party-list candidates or political parties. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Thaksin in Phuket to hear complaints

Posted by hasekamp on 28 January 2005 at 12:41 PM
Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra arrived in Phuket yesterday morning to hear complaints by Phuket residents about the government’s handling of the tsunami disaster. The meeting, held at the Royal Phuket City Hotel, was attended by some 500 people, including Cabinet ministers and other government officials. The Cabinet ministers reported on the progress of the various relief programs assigned to them, after which local businesspeople and other members of the private sector were allowed to comment. After the meeting, PM Thaksin told the press that the government would continue to support those whose homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed by the tsunami. "There is 20,000 baht available for each person affected by the tsunami. This is just initial relief funding. We will consider additional support on a case-by-case basis. The 20,000 baht may not help all victims to fully recover, but it should at least get them back on their own feet,” he said.
PM Thaksin added that he had received many phone calls from abroad asking about progress in the identification of dead bodies. “I have expedited the process so that it moves quickly and accurately. If we can identify any of them, we will be ready to send them back. I think it is going to move very fast from now on because we got some DNA analysis results back from China already and we are ready to start the process of DNA matching.”
PM Thaksin, who is also chairing an international conference in Phuket today on the establishment of a tsunami early-warning system for the Indian Ocean, said Thailand would first set up its own early-warning system based on seismic data alone. The system, to be budgeted at 10 million baht, could be operational withing two months, he said. (Source: The Phuket Gazette)


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New sinkholes in Phang Nga

Posted by hasekamp on 26 January 2005 at 12:18 PM
A Government Spokesman has revealed a report from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, stating that the ministry has discovered 70 sinkholes on Ra Island in Phang Nga province, with several more expected to appear. The Ministry has reported that satellite photos taken before and after the tsunami have been coupled with on-location surveys by investigative teams. The Ministry has asked the Cabinet to pronounce the island a landslide-prone site, and instruct Phang Nga province to ban all constructions there, pending further investigation. The Director of the Mineral Resources Department’s Geology Office said that recent satellite photos clearly indicated that the new sinkholes found on Ra Island were the result of landslides triggered by the December 26th earthquake. (Source: Public Relations Department)


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AIDS risk increased

Posted by hasekamp on 26 January 2005 at 12:14 PM
The United Nation's HIV/AIDS agency director in Thailand has warned that the HIV virus might quickly spread along the nation's tsunami-affected coastline. The agency director said that in the wake of the disaster many locals who lost their livelihoods are now turning to prostitution. He urged Bangkok and non-governmental organisations to increase access to both condoms and AIDS educational materials. He said that whenever there is a disaster situation, there is always an increased chance of HIV/AIDS vulnerability. This is a constant anywhere in the world. In this case, what is especially worrying is that this disaster has affected an already HIV/AIDS volatile region. Thailand's coast has already suffered from particularly high AIDS rates prior to the tsunami. In the country's southern seaside region, the AIDS rate has doubled in recent years among pregnant teenage women. (Source: Public Relations Department)


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Tourist boat capsized near Koh Samui

Posted by hasekamp on 25 January 2005 at 17:18 PM
At least 7 people were killed, including 4 foreign tourists, & 10 people missing after overloaded speedboat capsized Tue off Koh Samui, police said. The boat was returning to Samui island from the popular all-night full moon party on neighbouring Koh Phangan island, which draws thousands of local visitors and foreign tourists. According to the commander of Surat Thani marine police, seven bodies had been recovered: three foreign men, one foreign woman, two Thais, one unidentifed body, and about 10 people were missing. There were 40 passengers on the boat and half of them were rescued, a senior police officer in Samui said. (Source: The Nation)


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New reefs for Phang Nga

Posted by hasekamp on 25 January 2005 at 17:14 PM
The Marine and Coastal Resources Department plans to place 700 artificial reefs off the Andaman coast in Phangnga's Takua Pa district, in a bid to revive the tsunami-wrecked coral reefs. The cost is more than 1.5 million baht. The man-made, two-by-two metre concrete cube frames would become new breeding grounds for marine life and infant coral. The concrete blocks would be dropped about 3km offshore.
The department has also proposed a 10-million-baht artificial reef project to revive six tsunami-hit coral sites near Raja island, Bang Thao bay, Kata bay and Phi Phi islands. At least 350 pieces , each of about 500kg, would be dropped at each site. The artificial reefs would also act as an underwater wall to prevent large fishing vessels with destructive fishing gear from entering coastal areas. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Alternatives for wood in building

Posted by hasekamp on 24 January 2005 at 13:42 PM
The Royal Forest Department is studying to find alternatives to natural wood in order to help conserve the natural environment, a department official announced today. The government's closure of many of the nation's forests to logging in 1989 has led to growing demand for alternative materials to replace natural timber. A spokesman said that the department was now studying a range of alternatives, including materials made from twigs, agricultural waste products and scraps of wood from furniture production plants. The use of such products would give a huge revenue boost to industries which currently consign them to the scrapheap. The Royal Forest Department is now offering free training in the use of such materials to interested individuals and communities, and in the future plans a showroom to publicize its products and promote the creation of jobs using alternatives to natural wood. (Source: Thai News Agency)


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Election results on TV

Posted by hasekamp on 24 January 2005 at 13:37 PM
Next month (on 6 February) the general elections in Thailand will be held. Thai citizens living abroad, if they have registered, have received the necessary documents already. The election results will be broadcasted by seveal stations. Seven television stations, including Nation Channel TTV1, together with Advanced Info Service (AIS) and TOT Corporation, have formed an alliance to deliver fast and accurate voting results to voters across the country. Under the alliance, more than 20,000 volunteers will report tallies from each of the 400 designated counting units to the seven television stations using AIS’ cell-phone network. Those stations will then present the updates to their audiences as soon as the tallying begins. Updated tallies will be shown on television until the tallying process is completed. Tallying is expected to begin at 5.00pm, following the 3.00pm poll closing and continue until midnight.
Channels 3, 6, 7, 9, 11 and iTV are also participating in the alliance, which will spend Bt50 million on the reporting of voting results. (Source: The Nation)


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Search for bodies not ended yet

Posted by hasekamp on 24 January 2005 at 13:31 PM
The search has been renewed, almost one month after the disaster, for bodies that might still be hidden beneath rubble or in obscure places in areas struck by the December 26 tsunami waves. The fresh effort follows complaints from local people who still have not found the bodies of missing loved ones. The tsunamis inflicted the greatest damage in the resort areas of Khao Lak, villages in tambon Khuek Khuk and tambon Bang Muang, where the majority of the 5,374 confirmed deaths occurred.
A massive search was made in the first few days after the tsunami struck. Many bodies were washed ashore and found in open areas, such as beaches and roads. Villagers have kept complaining that some areas may still be hiding corpses, so officials have decided to do more checks. Three teams totalling more than 200 searchers and some sniffer dogs would renew the search for bodies in three main zones: Koh Khao, tambon Bang Muang, tambon Khuek Khuk and Khao Lak resort area. The search would continue until February 4. The teams would begin by checking out reports of locations where people may have gathered before the tragedy struck but which had not yet been cleaned up. This would include wrecked buildings and some parts of mangrove forests. One team had recovered a body in a mangrove forest in Ban Nam Khem in Bang Muang where the largest number of residents' houses were damaged by the waves. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Bird flu not over yet

Posted by hasekamp on 22 January 2005 at 10:37 AM
Sales of chickens and fighting cocks, especially from small-scale raisers, will be closely monitored during the Chinese New Year festival early next month to prevent feared bird flu, according to the Department of Livestock Development. Mr. Yukol Limlamthong, the department's director general, said yesterday that the department was worried that small-scale raisers might slaughter their chickens themselves for sale and for merit-making during the upcoming Chinese New Year, which could create transmission of avian influenza to humans. The department had also cooperated with more than 20 chicken processing plants and chicken exporters to produce chickens for domestic sale during the Chinese New Year to meet the market demand, as well as to ensure the safety standard and to prevent the spread of the avian flu. The safe chickens, labelled with 'Q' and certified by the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, will be specially packed and indicated for merit-making use during the forthcoming Chinese New Year", he disclosed. (Source: Thai News Agency)


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Subway crash aftermath

Posted by hasekamp on 22 January 2005 at 10:33 AM
The two subway drivers whose alleged recklessness led to Monday’s crash and more than 200 injuries were not sufficiently qualified, police said yesterday. Questioning of the drivers showed they had insufficient training, a Metropolitan Police spokesman said. The two drivers and two control room officials were charged yesterday with recklessness leading to serious injury. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said the subway line would be reopened only after the operator could ensure passenger safety.
Meanwhile specialists from Germany are likely to be put in charge of subway operations when services are resumed to ensure safety, the Transport Minister said. The Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand (MRTA), owner of the subway concession, has been told to consider hiring German drivers, he said. Train-maker Siemens has been contacted to help recruit German specialists who will also re-train Thai staff, including drivers, he said. (Sources: The Nation, The Bangkok Post)


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Manufacturer: Train system was OK

Posted by hasekamp on 21 January 2005 at 13:58 PM
Siemens AG, the German developer of Bangkok's first subway system, has denied any responsibility for Monday's collision on the underground train system, insisting that the system and the brakes on the trains were fully compliant with international safety standards. The denial comes amid allegations from a former Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand (MRTA) executive that Siemens was partly responsible for the crash, which caused over 100 injuries on January 17th. Nevertheless, in a company statement, Siemens, which designed the system and the rolling stock, said that the system met the same safety standards as the Siemens projects in the Unite States, Germany, Spain, Mexico, Turkey and Malaysia. Hinting that the collision had been caused solely by human error, the company said that the signal system had been working perfectly both before and during Monday's incident. Siemens pointed out that the automatic safety system was designed to ensure that trains brake if they come too close together, or, if they travel above the designated speed. (Source: Public Relations Department)


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Phuket FantaSea closes again

Posted by hasekamp on 19 January 2005 at 13:31 PM
Phuket FantaSea opened its doors today for a special booking, but will close again from tomorrow until February 1, and possibly beyond that. The prominent tourist attraction closed on January 8, after the number of bookings plummeted following the tsunami. At that time the managing director said that FantaSea had sustained damage totaling 60 to 70 million baht, and that, in addition, it had lost between 150 million and 200 million baht in revenue because of the slump in the number of visitors. The theme park’s management team has decided to close the attraction from tomorrow until January 30 and they are not yet sure if they will reopen next month. That will depend on the number of tourists at that time.
Since we know that Phuket FantaSea is owned by the same owner as safari World in Bangkok, against whom an investigation for wildlife trading is going on, we are no longer supporters of this attraction, however good the show may have been. (Source: The Phuket Gazette)


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Krabi ready for new tourists

Posted by hasekamp on 19 January 2005 at 13:21 PM
Thailand's province of Krabi today opened its arms – and beaches – to tourists, with an announcement - by the deputy provincial governor - that 90 percent of the province’s tourism destinations had already returned to normal following last month’s tsunamis. The deputy governor also announced that only around 10 percent of the province’s tourism destinations still showed signs of tsunami damage. Several destinations, he said, were now welcoming back tourists, including the Railey Beach, Ao Phranang and Koh Lanta. Koh Phi Phi remains off-limits, but several other nearby islands, such as Koh Rok and Koh Ngai had emerged unscathed from the disaster and welcome tourists as well. The deputy governor reminded the people that the province has a number of natural attractions, including the Emerald Pool in Klong Thom district and several waterfalls. The province is as eager to pull tourists to the province as the rest of Thailand. A first major attraction will be the anual Valentine’s day cliff-top wedding ceremony in which couples will ascend a cliff face before tying the knot. (Source: Thai News Agency)


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Free subway transport

Posted by hasekamp on 19 January 2005 at 13:14 PM
Subway trains may have to provide a free service to passengers for a period of time in order to resume confidence among them, according to the governor of the Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand (MRTA). He stated that the investigation into the subway train crash incident on Monday has been completely transparent, comprising of the investigation on whole incident and the examination on the security system. The commission found that the cause of subway train crash came from human error and not from a computer system malfunction. He also said that, during the construction of this project, a security protection system had been installed, which meets the standards of the Nation Fire Protection Association (NFPA) of the United States. MRTA thinks that a new marketing promotion campaign should be launched by offering passengers free subway train services. The purpose would be to resume passengers’ confidence towards subway trains. (Source: Public Relations Department)


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TAT wants to organize tsunami tours

Posted by hasekamp on 18 January 2005 at 18:30 PM
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is hoping to launch a “Tsunami Trail” tour in March, in collaboration with private tour companies. The TAT’s Regional Director for the Americas told the Phuket Gazette today that the tours would be aimed initially at the Thai market. “We are discussing the idea with tour companies, low-cost airlines and hotels, and are trying to decide on the sites that tourists should visit – both damaged and undamaged,” he said. He added that the Tsunami Trail will include a visit to a rescue center, temporary housing and – if they have been built by then – a memorial area and a center for orphans with the aim of allowing visitors to make donations to victims. (Source: The Phuket Gazette)


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Hotel deals all over Thailand

Posted by hasekamp on 18 January 2005 at 18:27 PM
A total of 250 tour operators are teaming up to offer new travel packages to Phuket and Krabi in an effort to revive tourism after the tsunami. In cooperation with Thai Airways (THAI), Nok Air, Orient Thai and hotel operators in Phuket and Krabi, the Association of Thai Tour Operators (ATTO) has come up with three packages that offer as much as 50 per cent off of normal rates. The campaign starts today and runs to the end of this month. There are three packages, each for three days and two nights at 50 per cent off of normal rates – two different packages for Phuket and one for Krabi.
The Thai Hotels Association (THA) said the tsunami has affected many tourist destinations, even Chiang Mai and Bangkok, due to fears of disease epidemics. In order to attract visitors, the Dusit Group is offering a two-night golfing getaway package at the Dusit Island Resort in Chiang Rai to March 31. In Bangkok, JW Marriott Hotel is featuring a business-conference package until February 28. Every 10 single rooms and/or 10 participants booked per event will receive one free single room and/or one complimentary participant fee for the standard conference package. Some new hotels are also set to open in Phuket this year. The Phuket Pavillion will open a boutique hotel, with 30 all-pool villas, in June on the western side of the island. (Source: The Nation)


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Two new morgues

Posted by hasekamp on 18 January 2005 at 18:27 PM
A Moken tribe graveyard and a Phuket monastery will replace two Buddhist temples in neighbouring Phangnga as morgues for bodies of tsunami victims yet to be identified. Phuket authorities and Disaster Victim Identification officers have chosen the Moken cemetery and Hat Sai Kaew monastery in Thalang district, Phuket, to store the unidentified corpses of about 5,000 tsunami victims who will be moved from Wat Bang Muang and Wat Yanyao in Phangnga's Takua Pa district. But the transfer will not go ahead for another two weeks as the prime minister has ordered the two temples in Phangnga to keep the bodies until they are positively identified, after a protest by locals. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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More about subway crash

Posted by hasekamp on 18 January 2005 at 18:19 PM
Bangkok's subway (Metro) system is to be closed for a week for safety inspections following yesterday's train collision shortly after the morning rush hour that left at least 180 people injured (yesterday reports said 100 injured), two seriously. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday blamed the accident on human error. There was nothing wrong with the subway's computer system, he said, the accident happened because a train driver failed to follow the safety instructions in the manual.
Transport Minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit said the collision took place about 9.15am at the Thailand Cultural Centre, when the brake of an empty train waiting on a curve was released while it was not yet fully connected with another train that was sent to tow it to the Rama IX depot. The empty train then rolled down the track and slammed into the front of a train packed with around 700 passengers while it was still at the station's platform. Mr Suriya said the system's safety regulations required that the brake must be applied at all time until connection with the tow train was completed.
Initial investigation revealed that the control centre had asked the passenger train, which was about to leave for the Hua Lamphong station, to remain stationary as the impact from a collision with a moving train would cause far more greater damage, he said. That was the right decision. That helped reduce losses. Mr Suriya said he asked why the passengers were not warned about the impending collision, and was told that there was not enough time to give any warning because the centre had only 10 seconds before the runaway train rammed into the passenger train. It was still unclear if the control centre ordered the release of the brake or if the driver of the empty train, Thanapol Nithichotiyanon, did it himself, he said. The minister said he had ordered BMCL to hire foreign safety experts for 10 million baht to review the subway's safety system. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Bangkok subway train crash

Posted by hasekamp on 17 January 2005 at 13:41 PM
Around 100 people were injured when two trains in Bangkok's five-month-old subway system crashed during the morning rush hour, officials and witnesses said. The accident prompted authorities to suspend train services for the day and its resumption will be announced later. The accident happened around 9:30 am when the train headed for Hua Lam Pong left Thailand's cultural center station was hit from behind by another train that was empty, according to police.
Initial reports said almost 100 people were injured. Police and authorities rescued all passengers from the train. The governor of the Metropolitan Rapid Transit Authority, said the empty train had just left a maintenance station where it received repairs when it slammed into the crowded rush-hour train carrying some 700 people. He said officials were still investigating the cause of the accident, but an initial probe indicated that it was caused by computer failure. (Source: The Nation)


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Political game with the disaster

Posted by hasekamp on 17 January 2005 at 13:28 PM
The tsunami took a political twist when PM Thaksin Shinawatra launched an offensive against a former Democrat minister and a Phuket governor who is now secretary-general of the Mahachon party, accusing them of negligence. The prime minister claimed that despite a warning by a former director-general of the Meteorological Department, an early-warning system was not installed because the powers-that-be then were too concerned about the impact on the tourism industry. The Democrats and Mahachon have slammed the comment, made at a cabinet meeting and broadcast live on TV, as a shameful ploy. The Democrats say they approved a budget of a billion baht to buy an earthquake detector only for the Thaksin government to scrap the plan.
But is the responsibilty of building or not building a warning system not the resposibility of the Gobvernment, and not of the Phuket governor, apart from the fact (mentioned above) that the Thaksin government disapproved of the plan? (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Better prisons

Posted by hasekamp on 16 January 2005 at 18:28 PM
The Thai prisons are not exactly known to be the most comfortable prisons in the world. Now the Justice Minister has said he would implement a plan to improve the conditions of Thailand's major prisons in the near future. The Justice Minister led an inspection tour of Bangkok’s five prisons on Friday, as part of a government project to boost the well-being of inmates all over the country. The Prison Board’s duty is to ensure all of the country’s prisons meet the Department of Health’s standards, covering dining halls, food, sleeping quarters and sanitation. He said that the committee had gathered information during the prison visits and suggested improvements to prison authorities, if they do not already meet the necessary standards. Overcrowding is one of the major problems facing the Corrections Department. (Source: Public Relations Department)


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Making money from the tsunami

Posted by hasekamp on 16 January 2005 at 18:21 PM
Painter Prachiad Prasertsri has captured the waves on canvas, and is selling his painting to tourists. His oil painting, which costs 5,000 baht, depicts a towering wave with the face of a demon. The work shows killer waves swallowing people. Mr Prachiad said he painted it from his memories. "It almost took my life," he said. Mr Prachiad is one of several artists in Patong who have chosen the tsunami as their theme in the hope it will appeal to foreign tourists.
Siriwat Mahachand, another painter, was hired by a British man to paint a picture of the Swedish mother who sprinted into the waves to save her three children while holidaying in Krabi. The family escaped the big waves. Mr Siriwat said the British man liked the photograph, which ran in the Bangkok Post on January 3. He brought it to his shop and asked him to paint it for 5,000 baht. It took him three days to complete. "The Briton told me the painting would serve as a memento of the time in Thailand when he escaped death," he said. And this seems to be the start of a new way to make money after the tsunami. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Conference about tourism future

Posted by hasekamp on 15 January 2005 at 11:15 AM
Andaman Sea coastal areas that relied heavily on tourism are set to make a “reasonably quick” recovery due to aggressive international marketing campaigns and the fact that damage wrought by the tsunami both to the environment and to the tourism infrastructure were less severe than had previously been speculated. This assessment was made by a panel of officials and private-sector members who have been working tirelessly in affected areas. They all agreed that almost three weeks after the disaster struck, conditions in the tsunami-hit region could now be more accurately assessed. The roundtable, held yesterday at the Metropole Hotel, organised by The Nation and The Phuket Gazette, reviewed the situation in Phuket, Phang Nga and Krabi.
The outlook for the region was not without challenges and causes for concern, panellists agreed. International tourists are expected to stay away from the region in the immediate future and accordingly the panellists called on the Thai government to help promote southern coastal resorts to Thai citizens over the next few months.
The ecosystem had been damaged less than was earlier expected, with the coral-reef system having largely escaped the tsunami’s onslaught. Moreover, only about 20 per cent of the 30,000 hotel rooms in the region were affected. Short-term measures include organising visits by the international media and tourist agents to the affected areas over the next couple of weeks, as well as the issuing of an official assurance that the areas are safe to visit from the Ministry of Public Health. (Source: the Nation)


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Academics: Thaksin is a dictator

Posted by hasekamp on 15 January 2005 at 11:10 AM
Academics yesterday labelled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra a dictator of a mould even worse than that of late Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos. Speaking at a seminar entitled: "Vision of New Leaders and the Future of Southeast Asia" held by Thammasat University's Southeast Asian Studies programme, Assoc Prof Sida Sornsri and Prajak Kongkirati said that the premier's repressive policies were beyond even the capabilities of the notorious Marcos. "In the Marcos dictatorship, academics and scholars, as part of civil society, still had the opportunity to express their opinions and outrage about the way the country was being run. But Thai academics are now living in a world of fear," Mr Sida. Mr Prajak said the Thaksin government has treated academics as a nuisance and never before had so many people who were simply stating opinions, or defending those of others, been so intimidated.
Meanwhile, Professor Rangsan Thanapornpan, of Thammasat University's Faculty of Economics, predicted a landslide victory for Thai Rak Thai in the upcoming election. However, he warned Mr Thaksin that to maintain his popularity he must keep all factions happy and ensure corruption is more discreet. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Phi Phi to start from zero

Posted by hasekamp on 13 January 2005 at 18:13 PM
A consulting firm yesterday completed its plan on how to rehabilitate the Phi Phi islands, after more than 950 edifices on this top tourist destination were wiped out in the devastating waves of late last year. The plan will be forwarded to the Department of Public Works and Town and Country Planning, and then the Cabinet for consideration. "The islands’ city planning is going to start from zero," Krabi provincial public works chief Anek Jirawuithipng said. According to global-positioning system surveys, the tsunamis levelled 956 edifices and severely damaged 358 other structures on the islands. Moderate damage was detected on 549 buildings, and minor damage on 506 others. Throughout the islands, 1,252 structures remained unscathed. The plan demands that all structures on the islands undergo urgent inspections. The results must be verified and endorsed by professional organisations. Debris must be removed, and the demolition of unsafe structures must be completed by next month, the firm said. Authorities must also have measures ready by next month to claim lots that must undergo certain changes for rehabilitation and the prevention of future disasters. (Source: The Nation)


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New Patong to be tsunami-proof

Posted by hasekamp on 13 January 2005 at 18:13 PM
The post-tsunami face of Patong Beach was unveiled to officials yesterday at Phuket’s provincial hall. "It’s a tsunami-free city plan," said architect Steven Townsend, head of the 12-member team of architects that designed it. The design includes sand dunes, attractive landscaping, large trees planted at intervals along the beach – to slow down any tsunami – more empty spaces, wider roads and one-way traffic. There will also be a series of towers for people to climb to be able to see monster waves rushing towards the shore, and if need be, they can then run for higher ground, reaching it within minutes. All electricity and telephone lines and water pipes would go underground. However, upon being presented with the design, Phuket Governor Udomsak Asavarangura questioned whether the design would conform to Patong’s environment. He pointed out that sand dunes would wash away easily during the annual monsoon. The team admitted they had not had time to take into account factors like the monsoon and other weather conditions.
But anyway, the Patong as it was, with buildings very close to the sea and the streets at the same level as the beach was very dangerous indeed. Maybe the designers could also do something at the "look" of Patong? All those uncontrolled signs all over the place are not really necessary! (Source: The Nation)


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Geologists: The South has changed

Posted by hasekamp on 12 January 2005 at 13:02 PM
The seismic hazard level of the South of Thailand might have to be increased from zero-low risk to moderate-fairly high risk because the recent Sumatra earthquake and tsunami have had a profound effect on the region’s geological structure, leading earthquake experts have warned. The most visible indicators are the ongoing soil collapse, which has created a series of sinkholes all over the region. The largest of the 18 holes found in the past two weeks by the Department of Mineral Resources is in Nakhon Si Thammarat, measuring 20 metres in diameter and 10 metres deep. "This is part of the aftershock effect, which could take several months," a geologist said. "We are lucky that the sinkholes so far have mostly occurred in forests or on farm land. Imagine what would happen if they took place in the middle of a town," he said.
The closest the sinkholes have come to communities are in Krabi’s Ao Luek district, where the ground inside a palm oil refinery plant subsided a day after the tsunami hit. They were about 6.5 metres wide and four metres deep. Fourteen of the 18 sinkholes were found in Satun. The Mineral Resources Depart-ment has dispatched three teams of experts to monitor the sinkhole phenomenon. (Source: The Nation)


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Quakes could hit Bangkok

Posted by hasekamp on 12 January 2005 at 12:58 PM
Information and Communications Technology Minister Surapong Suebwonglee yesterday urged the government to start thinking about what was once thought impossible: earthquakes in Bangkok, now the tsunami has shown the folly of conventional wisdom. Earthquakes could hit the country at any time and it could result in utter devastation in the capital because Thailand has never taken the risk seriously and no precautionary measures were in place, the minister said. While existing laws require buildings in the western region where the Kanchanaburi fault line is located to incorporate earthquake safety features, Bangkok has no such requirements. Mr Surapong also stressed the need to train more seismologists. There are just four in the Meteorological Department.
A ministerial meeting on a tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean will take place on Jan 28, drawing participants from Asean to those from countries such as Japan and Australia. The minister said the warning system would most likely be composed of special buoys for deep ocean assessment and reporting of tsunami waves. Maintaining the buoys would cost 56 million baht a year and the total cost for a buoy system in the Indian Ocean is estimated at about one billion baht. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Surin beach ready

Posted by hasekamp on 12 January 2005 at 12:54 PM
Beach chairs and parasols have been banned on Patong and Kamala beaches since the tsunamis, but nearby Surin beach is now a riot of colour with hundreds of beach umbrellas set out to draw tourists. Surin beach was less affected by the disaster and is not subject to the new restrictions, so is attracting more visitors. Surin beach is a few kilometers away from Patong and Kamala beaches where beach chairs and umbrellas are banned under the plan to rejuvenate the area. There were only 40 beach umbrellas remaining, however, and the price had gone up to 600 baht each. Beach chairs and umbrellas on Surin beach now rent out for 50 baht each per day. Patong beach used to charge 100 baht a time. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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One location for remaining bodies

Posted by hasekamp on 11 January 2005 at 11:11 AM
The Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Public Health Ministry said the ministry is planning to gather the bodies of unidentified victims from the tsunami tragedy to one location in Phuket province. He added that the move would help the officials to identify the deceased victims more efficiently. He explained that once the bodies are relocated, the experts from the local and US disease-control units will jointly clean the temples, which have been used as morgues and autopsy centres since December 26th last year. (Sourdce: Public Relations Department)


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New center for bird flu

Posted by hasekamp on 11 January 2005 at 11:08 AM
Life goes on and other news is coming up slowly. The government is planning a new center to handle bird flu emergencies in response to the World Health Organization's concern about a possible major outbreak in Asia made deadlier by human-to-human transmissions. The planned center will monitor the flu's spread, devise strict quarantine protocols, and designate separate treatment areas for bird flu patients. Patients will be examined on a case-by-case basis. A system will be put in place to prepare the country in the event of mutation enabling the flu virus to jump from one person to another. Thailand could be hit by a major bird flu outbreak in the next year or the next three to five years, an official said, adding that his warning was based on credible scientific data.
In Vietnam, a 16-year-old Vietnamese girl who battled bird flu for more than two weeks has died, the country's third casualty in 10 days from the disease that killed dozens and devastated Southeast Asia's poultry industry last year. Asia's death toll from the H5N1 bird flu strain is now 35. Bird flu killed 12 people in Thailand last year but no new cases have been reported in the country since November. Malaysia, which has had no human cases, declared itself free of the virus last week. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Strays dogs in Phang Nga

Posted by hasekamp on 11 January 2005 at 11:07 AM
Packs of starving stray dogs have been sneaking into temples and a cemetery in Takua Pa district, where the bodies of tsunami victims are kept, to scavenge for food. The beast are almost starving because there is very little food to be found. Following complaints from forensic experts and volunteers working there, the Foundation for Stray Dogs recently sent a seven-member team to Phang Nga province to round up the strays. "Many of the strays are sick, possibly because they have contracted diseases from decomposed bodies," a veterinarian said yesterday. He said dogs, which got into close contact with dead bodies could pose a health hazard, especially to people who pet them. "It's better to prevent these dogs from roaming around the district at the moment because nobody can prevent them from scavenging among dead bodies that may still be left uncollected in wave-hit areas," he said. The veterinarian added that a large number of pet dogs had become strays. (Source: the Bangkok Post)


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Plans to rebuilt resorts

Posted by hasekamp on 11 January 2005 at 11:07 AM
Both central and provincial bodies are working to implement new development plans for the tsunami-devastated provinces of Phuket, Krabi and Phang Nga to enable the area to reclaim its position as a world-class tourist destination. Reviving the disaster-hit area was the subject of a seminar, “How to create a stable tourist destination in the Andaman triangle after the tsunami disaster”, held yesterday at the Metropole Phuket Hotel and organised by business newspaper Krungthep Turakij. The Natural Resources and the Environment Minister said that the government plans to rehabilitate the three provinces by working with the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) to study the areas and draft new development plans for each province. A key focus of the new development plans is on preserving the natural beauty of the areas, said Santichai. This will likely conflict with those who ran businesses in the areas, such as those who rented out the more than 6,000 umbrellas on Patong Beach, as well as other beach services.
Aside from limiting business on the beach itself, the new plans would also call for businesses to be kept back 15 meters from the main road. Car parks would also be moved from the main road to other areas, and a walking street would be constructed for tourists. This, of course, is a wise, if not unavoidable, decision.
The same plan camnnot be used for all of the beaches, because each beach has a different culture. If the government develops the area using our existing city plan, it will better suit the culture and the demands of the communities on the beach. Patong Beach, for example, has a number of investors who are not native to the area. The Minister said that the area was in need of rehabilitation prior to the tsunami disaster.
Kamala Beach, which has a distinct culture from other beaches in Phuket because 90 per cent of the local people there are Muslim, would be developed differently than Phuket, owing to its unique character.
In Krabi, the president of the Krabi Tourist Association agreed with the government’s plan to revitalise the tsunami-affected provinces, but he added that the government must ask the public before implementing it. (Source: The Nation)


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King donates again

Posted by hasekamp on 10 January 2005 at 15:54 PM
His Majesty the King has donated another 10 million baht (from his personal mewans) so the army can build a school for children orphaned by the Dec 26 tsunami. The school will be built on land at Ban Nam Khem in Phangnga's Takua Pa district, along with a tsunami museum and a memorial for Khun Poom Jensen, Princess Ubolratana's son who died in the big waves. It would be built at the foot of a hill near Ban Bang Sak School in tambon Bang Sak, and will take orphans to study from kindergarten to Mathayom Suksa 6. His Majesty will give good students a scholarship to go on to study at university. The King wanted the school finished in 10 months. A temporary building would be built first as there were now 124 pupils without classrooms. A dormitory for 300 students would also be built. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Royal appeal for donations

Posted by hasekamp on 10 January 2005 at 15:54 PM
Khun Ploypailin Jensen, sister of Khun Poom Jensen, who died in the tsunami, has made an emotional appeal for more donations from all over the world so the Thai Red Cross Society can help Thai victims of the tsunami get their lives back in order. Khun Ploypailin, Princess Ubolratana's eldest daughter, said more contributions were needed so the relief effort could continue. It would take years for all the people affected by the tsunami to get back to their feet. "Many injured foreigners were able to return to the tranquillity of their home countries, but the Thais who live in the devastated area are returning to nothing but a shell of their previous lives, having lost their loved ones, their homes and their livelihoods," she said in the message posted on the Red Cross website. People in the six Andaman Sea provinces faced infection and disease as a result of lack of clean drinking water and a deteriorating environment. Her decision to help the Red Cross campaign was driven by the loss of her only brother, Khun Poom, who died while on vacation at Khao Lak in Takua Pa district, Phangnga, when the waves inundated the shore, and the overwhelming support of the Thai people, the victims. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Phuket FantaSea shuts down

Posted by hasekamp on 10 January 2005 at 15:54 PM
Phuket FantaSea amusement park has been temporarily closed because of a sharp drop in the number of visitors following the tsunami disaster.
The chairman of Phuket Fantasy Plc, said his amusement park has suffered a loss of 150-200 million baht due to the lack of visitors. So he decided to close it from Jan 8-18. The park was usually visited by 3,000-6,000 tourists a day. The number has dropped to about 15 a day. Tour companies had cancelled their reservations until the end of next month. Phuket usually hosted about one million tourists, 25% Thais and 75% foreigners, from January to March, but the number of visitors had virtually dropped to zero. The problem was now critical for the 500,000 people who work in tourism-related businesses in the six tsunami-hit provinces.
Having reported earlier that the owner of Phuket FantaSea is also the owner of Safari World in Bangkok, which is involved in the wildlife trade, we do not feel sorry for the decision to close down and for the loss of income. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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How to get the tourists back?

Posted by hasekamp on 9 January 2005 at 13:09 PM
The Tourism Authority of Thailand is working hard to ensure the comeback of tourists, of which more than half are Europeans, who have cancelled their trips to Thailand. Following the figure of cancellations of tours to the Andaman Region from European travel agencies, the TAT Deputy Governor said that the TAT would turn to the Asian market to make the tourist numbers up. The TAT is inviting journalists and tourism operators from around the world to witness the true situation in the Andaman region, with a delegation from China expected at the end of this month, in anticipation of the Chinese New Year. A second delegation from Japan will arrive in February, while the TAT will conduct a roadshow in the German capital of Berlin later in the year to promote the Andaman region.
We understand the need for the Thai economy to win back the tourists, but we think that it really is (much) too early for campagns like this. The next few months tourists will (and maybe should) stay away in order to give Thailand time to grieve and to restore its resorts. One cannot expect tourist - except a few - to celebrate happy holidays in a country where all the dead have not yet been buried or not even have been identified. We believe that even the Thai government shoud better reckon with several months without tourists. (Source: Public Relations Department)


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Children's Day does not make children happy

Posted by hasekamp on 9 January 2005 at 12:55 PM
Yesterday was Children's day. But it is different from other years. The celebrations at Ban Bang Muang disaster relief camp did bring smiles and joy to more than 300 tsunami-hit children, but yesterday was just another day of misery for some kids who lost parents in the killer waves. Children orphaned by the tsunami yearned for the return of their families and expressed their fears of horrible waves through drawings. While other children at the camp queued for ice-cream, scrambled for toys and enjoyed stage shows, 12-year-old Wisut Somabutra just wanted to be left alone. The family lived at Ban Nam Khem, the biggest fishing village in Phangnga's Takua Pa district. His father, 39, was a fisherman. The bodies of his parents have not been found. Ban Nam Khem villagers who lost their children also stayed away from yesterday's festivities. Sorrow also filled the air at Ban Thap Lamu, where the Navy took orphans on a helicopter sightseeing tour of the Andaman Sea as part of the celebrations.
Social Development and Human Security Minister Sora-at Klinprathum said the ministry's rough survey in the six wave-struck provinces found 29 children had lost both parents, while 328 were fatherless or motherless. So, for the first time since long, Children's Day was not a happy day (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Prncess grants press an audience

Posted by hasekamp on 7 January 2005 at 12:42 PM
Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya said that while she may disappear from the public eye for some time this year, she would resume her social activities over the long term, encouraged by the advice of His Majesty the King, who urged her to continue working to regain her strength. "His Majesty the King gave me moral support and told me that I have to be strong first and continue my work and even work harder," the Princess said on Wednesday night at Boromphiman Mansion. The Princess granted the press an audience after the funeral rites for her son Khun Poom Jensen were performed, so she could inform the public about her work. She announced that the annual performance of "The River of Kings" would be cancelled, since it was inappropriate to stage such a show at a time of national mourning. The Princess also announced that her other projects would be postponed, except her pilot anti-drug campaign "To Be Number One".
With tears in her eyes, the Princess announced her latest project – the Khun Poom Jensen Foundation – which will support underprivileged children, with a priority on relieving the suffering of those affected by the tsunami. After the first phase, the focus will be on helping autistic children. "Please. I don’t want anyone to forget Nong Poom because he loved Thailand and Thai people so much. Even though his body is not here anymore, the foundation will continue his merit," she said. (Source: The Nation)


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UN: Largest disaster in UN history

Posted by hasekamp on 7 January 2005 at 12:38 PM
World leaders yesterday agreed to pool their efforts and contribute resources both to provide relief to the millions affected by the deadly tsunami as well as to establish an early-warning system in the Indian Ocean, where countries have been hard hit by the disaster. The leaders, who met in Jakarta for a one-day meeting, also agreed that the United Nations would act as the central body for coordinating relief efforts. This will be the largest disaster relief project ever taken on by the global organisation.
Annan yesterday made an appeal for US$ 977 million (Bt 38 billion) from the world community to help the millions of victims. Over the next six months, the UN requires this amount in order to cover the humanitarian emergency, which involves five million affected people, he said.
The UN chief, who met with Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai on the sidelines to the international conference, said that the UN would utilise its regional headquarters in Bangkok to facilitate the relief and reconstruction efforts in devastated areas. ASEAN, which organised the one-day emergency international conference on the tsunami aftermath, called upon the UN to coordinate relief efforts among affected countries since there has been logistical trouble and confusion among aid agencies. (Source: The Nation)


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Many Finns still missing

Posted by hasekamp on 7 January 2005 at 12:34 PM
Out of approximately 2,000 Finnish visitors to Thailand that went missing after last week’s killer tsunami, only 500 have so far been located, Thai authorities said yesterday. Finland’s Minister for Social Affairs and Health and the Finnish Ambassador to Thailand thanked the Kingdom for its handling of cases of Finnish tourists missing, injured and killed in the wake of the tragic disaster that ravaged Thailand’s Andaman coast on December 26. The Thai authorities welcomed Finland’s stated willingness to help Thailand set up a tsunami warning system.
The Thai Public Health Ministry, meanwhile, received durable goods, medical supplies, medicines, foodstuffs and other goods worth more than Bt25 million donated by 168 Finnish companies. Thai authorities pledged to spare no effort in locating the missing Finnish tourists. (Source: The Nation)


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Prices for seafood drop

Posted by hasekamp on 7 January 2005 at 12:30 PM
Seafood vendors have complained about a sharp drop in sales as consumers shun marine fish for fear the fish may have eaten the remains of people swept out to sea by the December 26 tsunami. A vendor at Kaset market in Phuket said that before the tsunami hit the province, she made 7,000 baht a day selling fish, but now sales had fallen to 1,000 baht. Another vendor said the drop in sales was the worst she had seen in more than 30 years. She felt sad for people who had lost their loved ones in the tragedy. "I sell many species of marine fish. People are reluctant to buy fish even though I tell them the types of fish sold in my shop did not consume human flesh,". (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Bangkok Post tsunami site

Posted by hasekamp on 7 January 2005 at 12:27 PM
There is another website, part of the Bangkok Post website, where calls about missing persons can be placed. Find it at http://www.bangkokpost.com/tidalwave/index.html
It also contains other information regarding the disaster.
On Hasekamp Net we also opened a forum for missing persons. We are only a modest site, but one never knows if it can help. One person posted a call on one of our forums, where it could hardly be found, so we openened a special tsunami forum on http://www.hasekamp.net/cgi-bin/YaBB/YaBB.pl?board=tsunami .


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No disease outbreaks on Phuket

Posted by hasekamp on 6 January 2005 at 10:51 AM
The chief of the Phuket Provincial Health Office (PPHO) has confirmed that there have been no reports of epidemic diseases on the island, but has warned people to take precautions with drinking water. In particular people in coastal areas affected by the December 26 tsunami are warned to refrain from drinking well water in order to prevent the spread of diseases. Contaminated drinking water is the single greatest concern of the authorities. The people in the areas hit by the tsunami are being advised to drink boiled water only. The PPHO earlier distributed a notice issued by the Department of Disease Control on December 29, warning that diarrhea, cholera, influenza, conjunctivitis, malaria and other diseases could spread in affected areas if precautions are not taken. (Source: The Phuket Gazette)


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Search continues in remote places

Posted by hasekamp on 6 January 2005 at 10:43 AM
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra stresses that the search for bodies of tsunami victims will continue in mangrove forests and at sea, as a large number of those missing remains to be unaccounted for. While the search for bodies has wound down inland among the rubbles, relief workers and officials are still scouring mangrove forests and the sea in affected areas. The Royal Thai Navy will lead this new phase of search in swamps and seas, which to date have not been as thoroughly combed, the Prime Minister announced. The Thai Prime Minister dismissed reports of considerable damages to the coastal and marine resources (coral reefs) in the trail of the tsunamis along the six provinces hit. Damages, he said, have been inflicted in the immediate coastal areas and onshore, whereas coral reefs offshore remain largely intact. (Source: Thai News Agency)


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Collective mourning service

Posted by hasekamp on 6 January 2005 at 10:38 AM
Thousands of people lit candles and monks chanted for the dead at dusk yesterday as Christians, Muslims and Buddhists together mourned tsunami victims on the island of Phuket. The mourning ceremony was held at a sport stadium near Saphan Hin in Muang district of Phuket. As they gathered, the government raised the tsunami death toll in Thailand by 42 to 5,246, with the number of missing down by 783 to 4,499. Throughout the region the confirmed death toll had risen to 146,019.
It was a traditional Buddhist merit-making service with people praying for peace for the spirits of the dead. But many of those kneeling in rows facing the chanting monks in the stands were people of other faiths. The ceremony began at dusk. Interior Minister Bhokin Bhalakula gave his condolence speech to the families of the deceased and then proceeded to light the main lantern, flames from which were passed from person to person until the stadium was illuminated with a yellow glow. About 100 hot air balloons were also released, as a traditional way of guiding the souls of the departed in the afterlife, after which time the crowd quietly departed. Pictures of the event were distributed worldwide and one can probably be found in your newspaper. (Sources: The Bangkok Post / AP / The Phuket Gazette)


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Weather chief transferred

Posted by hasekamp on 5 January 2005 at 11:34 AM
The Thai Cabinet yesterday ordered the temporary transfer of Meteorological Department chief Suparerk Tansriratanawong for failing to issue a tsunami alert on Dec 26. Mr Suparerk was to be shifted to assist work at the Prime Minister's Office for six months pending an investigation. A Government spokeman said Mr Suparerk would temporarily help a panel, headed by Smith Tumsaroch, assistant to the minister at the PM's Office and former meteorological chief, set up a tsunami early-warning system. The transfer was not a punishment for the department's failure to warn of coming tidal waves, and Mr Suparerk may resume his position after six months if that is deemed appropriate, the spokesman said. No acting chief of the department has been appointed. A disciplinary committee would not be set up to investigate Mr Suparek. However, a nine-member panel would be appointed to investigate and assess the overall performance of the Meteorological Department. "When a quake measuring at 8.9-9.0 on the Richter scale struck Sumatra, it was widely known a tsunami could happen. But why weren't there any alerts? I really want to know the truth," Mr Thaksin said.
Foreign newsmedia published "the truth" already: Mr. Suparerk and his bureau said they had no way to determine the size of the waves and therefore the threat they posed. They said they were reluctant to issue a warning without such information because it could harm the tourism industry, an action that could anger the government. And indeed, we suppose that the "punishment" of Mr. Suparerk would have been more serious if he would have sent out a false warning! (Main source: The Bangkok Post; source for the last paragraph: BBC news)


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King: Take care of orphans

Posted by hasekamp on 4 January 2005 at 14:05 PM
His Majesty the King has instructed the Rajaprachanukroh Foundation under his patronage to look after more than 100 children orphaned by the tsunami that struck southern Thailand last week, the organisation’s chairman said yesterday. His Majesty has asked the foundation to take care of the orphans and make sure they received at least a college education. The total number of orphans has yet to be finalised but officials say they expect more orphans to be rescued in the coming days. The head of the Provincial Social Welfare Department in Phuket said teams had been told to visit the affected areas with search vehicles to look for orphans and bring them to shelters. The King earlier donated 30 million Baht (from his personal resources) to tsunami victims through the foundation and Her Majesty the Queen took the lead in an international blood-giving drive.
The Social Development and Welfare Department said more than 100 social workers were working in Satun, Ranong, Trang, Phang Nga, Phuket and Krabi to help survivors cope with the deadly disaster’s aftermath. (Source: The Nation)


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Free tours for survivors

Posted by hasekamp on 4 January 2005 at 13:56 PM
Life (and tourism) has to go on, is the idea of the Thai authorities it seems. The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is now offering alternative tours of the country's eastern and northern region, including Pattaya, for tourists who survived last week's tsunamis, TAT governor Juthamas Siriwan said today. Mrs. Juthamas, who recently travelled to the Andaman coast to speak with survivors of the tragedy, said that many foreign survivors were insistent on remaining in Thailand to complete their holidays. The TAT was laying on tours of other areas, including Chiang Mai, Lampang, Pattaya, Koh Chang and Rayong, for the survivors, she said, adding that the TAT was also coordinating with the Thai Tourism Business Association to arrange free tours of the Grand Palace in Bangkok as well as historic tourist destinations in the central province of Ayutthaya, and the Chao Phraya River.
Given the fact that Thailand estimates that the tourist industry in Thailand's southern Andaman provinces will lose ten billion baht a month as a result of last week's tsunami, the effort to please the remaining tourists is not really surplrising. In order to keep the losses to a minimum, efforts to restore the affected tourist spots must be carried out as quickly as possible, Mrs. Juthamas told journalists on Monday. (Source: Thai News Agency)


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Dutch minister ignores victims

Posted by hasekamp on 4 January 2005 at 13:47 PM
The interior minister of the Netherlands (in his own country coordinator for disasters) Johan Remkeswas on holyday on Koh Samui (some 250 km from Phuket), when the disaster hit Thailand.
He phoned his spokesman at home on 26 December and reported that he was unhurt, and that he did not want to be disturbed. And that was that! He did not plan to visit the hit area to give some support to his fellow countrymen, he did not even phone to Phuket hospitals or some government office in Thailand to inform about the situation of the Dutch victims, he did nothing and continued his holidays in "peace". Not to speak of – at least for a few hours - actively helping with the clearing of the bodies and the mess, like we saw some Thai ministers do (on TV).
As soon as members of the opposition (and only the opposition!) in the Netherlands heard about this shameful behaviour, they asked questions to the Prime Minister.
Now Mr. Remkes will visit the Dutch identification team, operating in Phuket, tomorrow. We hope that the victims who lost their loved ones and all their possessions will be standing ready to give Mr. Remkes a "proper welcome". And we hope that the Dutch Parliament will show enough guts to send this Minister, who is responsible for – among other things – disaster coordination in his own country, home.
We fear, however, that this will not happen because later, Dutch sources from the party of Mr. Remkes (VVD) said, that he had been willing to visit the area all the time, but that he would only "walk in the way" and he had therefore decided to visit the area not sooner than he had received "the green light", which was today.
Our comment is that visiting one or two hospitals with Dutch victims "incognito" would not have been in the way of anybody, and would be the least that a minister, who is near the area hit, should have done. Now his visit could better be cancelled and he would best resign quietly today. (Various Dutch sources)


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Direct donations to Thailand

Posted by hasekamp on 3 January 2005 at 11:38 AM
For those who want to make a donation, directly to Thailand, we post the following details for several possibilities. We believe that all these institutions are worth 100% of your trust and, knowing the Thai mentality, we believe that overhead cost - if any - will be minimal. Here is a list:
- Rotary Club of Patong: Bangkok Bank, Patong branch, Phuket. Account name: Rotary Club of Patong Beach; Account number: 563-0-316460; Swift code: BKKBTHBK.
- Earthquake Rescue Fund (administered by the Governor of Phuket): Krung Thai Bank, Phuket Branch; Account name: Earthquake Rescue Fund; Account number: 805-0-02275-7; Swift code: KTDTHTB. Donors are asked to email info@lynxmgmt.com or fax +66 76 200552 after sending funds to the account.
- Siam Commercial Bank Relief Fund (for people in any of the six stricken provinces in need of assistance): Siam Commercial Bank, Ratchayothin Branch, Bangkok; Account name: SCB. POOPRASOBPAI; Account number: 111-3-05400-9.
- ITV Relief Fund (for people in any of the six stricken provinces in need of assistance). Siam Commercial Bank, Ratchayothin Branch, Bangkok; Account name: ITV. FOR PUPRASOBPAI; Account number: 111-3-05388-3.
- Thai Red Cross: Siam Commercial Bank, Ratchayothin Branch, Bangkok; Account name: THAI RED CROSS; Account number: 045-304002-3.
- Phuket Red Cross Society: Krung Thai Bank, Phuket Branch; Account name: Red Cross; Account number 805-1-46915-1.
- Kusoldharm Rescue Foundation (for the rescue of trapped and injured people, and retrieval of bodies). Bank of Ayudhya, Phunphon Branch, Phuket City, Phuket; Account Name: Kusoldharm Foundation; Account Number 297-108886-3. (Source: The Phuket Gazette)


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Search will stop on Wednesday in Phang Nga. 4,700 Bodies found there.

Posted by hasekamp on 3 January 2005 at 11:25 AM
The search for bodies of tsunami victims in Phang Nga, the country's worst-hit province, has entered the final stage and collection of bodies is expected to end on Wednesday, said Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suvit Khunkitti. Large-scale search operations in the devastated areas have ended, said the minister, who spoke in his capacity as chief of the Tsunami Disaster Relief Centre. Focus would be placed on the few remaining spots, including old mining holes in Ban Nam Khem and some mangrove forest areas in Takua Pa district, where a large number of victims were possibly trapped. After the operation ends on Wednesday, a special unit would be set up to coordinate with tidal wave victims who want rescuers to search for their relatives in particular spots, he said. Mr Suvit yesterday met hotel and resort owners affected by the December 26 tsunami, urging them to cooperate and help rescue workers to inspect and search for victims in their compounds. Many hotel and resort operators had barred rescue workers and the media from entering their premises, saying they preferred to conduct the rescue operation on their own.
Meanwhile, search operations were making progress in Phangnga, where 4,700 dead have been found so far. The identification of bodies has become a prime concern as a large number of unidentified corpses are being stored in temples and space is running out. Mr Suvit has floated the idea of creating a burial ground for the tsunami victims in the province similar to the memorial ground of the World War II victims in Kanchanaburi province.
The army yesterday began constructing the first batch of 132 houses for villagers who lost their homes in Phangnga's Bang Muang district. Each house costs about 100,000 baht. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Temple becomes huge morgue

Posted by hasekamp on 3 January 2005 at 11:20 AM
Nikornwararam temple, or Wat Yanyao, in Phangnga's Takua Pa district, was not well-known to outsiders. Then it was transformed into the country's largest morgue and forensic unit. The first batch of casualties arrived at the temple on the evening of December 26, hours after the tsunami. The temple was chosen because it is located close to the hardest-hit areas, such as Ban Nam Khem, Khao Lak beach, and tambon Keuk Kuk, where most of the tsunami victims were found. The number of dead at the temple jumped from a few hundred to about 1,500 in five days. The number continues to soar. So far, about 4,700 bodies have been found in Phangnga. Since so many corpses were stored at the temple, the forensic team set up an operation centre there to identify bodies by collecting DNA samples and recording identifying marks. The temple's recreation area has been taken over by more than 10 refrigeration containers filled with hundreds of victims. Pavilions have been altered into forensic laboratories, as well as an IT room where donated coffins are used as computer desks. The monks' lodges are surrounded with newly arrived corpses. The stench of the rotting bodies can be smelled kilometres away from the temple. The temple is crowded with rescue workers, doctors, volunteers and foreign forensic experts, wearing full protective gear to prevent exposure to diseases. Thousands of relatives, both Thai and foreigners, also flock to the temple to search for the bodies of loved ones. Nobody knew the Temple. Now, by an unexpected and disastrous reason, it has become known worldwide. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Elephants help with clearing

Posted by hasekamp on 3 January 2005 at 11:14 AM
The elephant, once the hardest worker in Thailand, has a new and important task: Six elephants from the Ayutthaya elephant shelter have been transported by truck to Takua Pa district of Phangnga to help in clearing debris from wave-struck areas. The manager of the elephant shelter said the elephants were trained to haul heavy materials and would be of much use in the clean-up operation. The elephant shelter and Takua Pa district office would designate areas suitable for the elephants to work, such as high slope areas, he said. The animals will be working under risky conditions as they could get stuck in the muddy soil. Nevertheless more elephants will be brought in if the authorities find they are useful for the clean-up operation. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Road toll lower than last year

Posted by hasekamp on 3 January 2005 at 11:14 AM
Police said 204 people were killed on the roads from December 29 to 31, representing a drop of 30 per cent from the same period last year, when 290 died. Three thousand and ten road accidents were reported during the last three days of the year, police said. In the same period a year ago, police recorded 10,630 injuries along with the 290 fatalities. Most of the accidents were caused by drink-driving and failure to wear safety helmets.
In Bangkok, traffic police set up 264 checkpoints to curb drink-driving and check speeding motorists headed for the provinces. On the night of New Year’s Eve, police reported 1,326 bike drivers without safety helmets, 260 cases of drink-driving, 787 cases of people failing to fasten safety belts, 1,526 cases of people driving without licences and 87 cases of speeding.
The country remained in mourning for the thousands of lives that were lost to the tidal disaster in the South. We believe that was the reason for a lower toll on the roads during the holiday weekend than last year. (Source: The Nation)


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Thaksin speech

Posted by hasekamp on 2 January 2005 at 12:49 PM
Tha Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra ended the year with a speech chronicling his government's policy success, claiming credit for breaking new ground in national development. The prime minister also touched on the aftermath of the Dec 26 tsunami disaster, saying the country was slowly coming to terms with the catastrophic losses to life and property. Rescue and recovery operations requiring enormous logistical support were continuing in the six affected provinces of Phuket, Phangnga, Ranong, Krabi, Satun and Trang.
Mr Thaksin bade farewell to 2004 on an optimistic note. In his televised statement, he said next year would be an auspicious one, marking His Majesty the King's 60th year on the throne on June 6. Major celebrations are planned. Mr Thaksin said projects to stimulate the grassroot economy through debt moratorium for farmers, bank for the small-and-medium enterprises, one-million-baht village fund, one-tambon-one-product programme and the scheme to convert assets into capital would continue. Poverty eradication was high on the agenda, he said. The government had found enough land for poor people where they could make a living.
The economy was growing steadily after setbacks from surging fuel prices, bird flu and rising interest rates. He expected growth for the year to top 6.2% with international reserves swelling to an unprecedented US$ 49,200 million. In the first 10 months, exports jumped to US$ 80,000 million, or 22% from last year. Not only was the tax revenue ahead of target, the unemployment rate also fell in 2004 as the government had managed to balance the budget for the first time in years. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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At least 10,000 dead or missing

Posted by hasekamp on 1 January 2005 at 15:25 PM
More than 10,000 people were confirmed yesterday as dead or missing in Thailand as a result of Sunday’s tsunami, with the most up-to-date death toll in Phang Nga alone approaching 4,000. Interior Ministry figures declared 4,560 dead – half of them foreigners – and another 6,479 people still missing in six Andaman Sea provinces. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said earlier that 80 per cent of the missing should be presumed dead. In Phang Nga, 3,689 dead bodies have been retrieved, with more than 2,000 corpses believed to be as-yet undiscovered.
Most of the corpses have been retrieved in the Phi Phi Islands, except in the waste-water treatment area, and the local residents have started to move back and tidy up. Meanwhile, the prime minister is unhappy that the number of missing is still so high, saying the retrieval process is slow and has only reached the half-way point so far. "It’s been slow because people were afraid of aftershock waves, and because of the difficulty in restoring necessary facilities to allow heavy machinery to operate in the areas," said Thaksin. He also said that he would look after those made unemployed and affected in other ways in every area impacted by the disaster, but for now he has to focus on the corpses because they are bloating. Thaksin also said that His Majesty the King was very appreciative of the harmony and compassion shown by the people in the Kingdom in helping and donating money and relief items to the victims of the disaster. The premier added that the disaster had caused a greater number of deaths than any previous national catastrophe, and had also killed the King’s grandson. The fact that His Majesty has donated his own money has in itself lifted the participation of the people, he said, adding, "I’m proud to see that Thais love each other." (Source: The Nation)


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Surviving tourists leave Phuket

Posted by hasekamp on 1 January 2005 at 15:18 PM
About 6,000 foreign tourists who survived the tsunami disaster on Sunday have been sent home, said Phuket governor Udomsak Assawarangkul. Some are very reluctant to leave, because some of their loved ones have not yet been located. Relatives of victims have arrived in stricken areas to pick up the dead. DNA samples and photographs were taken of the bodies recovered before they were stored in refrigerated cargo containers. The Sammakki Samkong community in Muang district held a merit-making rite yesterday for victims. More than 400 people joined the ceremony. The governor said a massive clean-up operation which began early this week was winding down at Patong and Kamala beaches. The chairman of the Phuket service businesses association, said 20% of shops in Patong damaged by the waves had reopened.
In Ranong province, Thanadet Ditthalamphu, owner of Payam Cabala Bungalow, said the waves had destroyed his bungalows worth five million baht. Beaches are being swept clean. Some foreign tourists insisted on staying and bookings were gradually returning to normal. Villagers banded together to rebuild wooden bridges and piers knocked down by the waves. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Donations from within Thailand

Posted by hasekamp on 1 January 2005 at 15:13 PM
Cash donations from Thais nationwide for tsunami victims in six southern provinces exceeded 211 million baht (more than 5 million US$) yesterday. We can assure you that this is a lot of money, given the living standard in Thailand! People are donating generously. The permanent secretary for the Prime Minister's Office said cash donations of 211.38 million baht would be added to the Prime Minister's Office's disaster relief fund which held 22 million baht on Dec 25, a day before the killer waves struck. The government has set up subcommittees in the six provinces on the Andaman coast ravaged by the tidal waves to distribute the money. Deputy Prime Minister Suwat Liptapanlop, who oversees the Tourism Authority of Thailand, was inspecting the tsunami-ravaged areas yesterday, and preparing to pass on 200 million baht from the fund to the victims including 10,000 baht in initial compensation for each death and 2,000 baht for each survivor. Distribution of the money began in Phuket yesterday and would continue in the other provinces (Krabi, Phangnga, Satun, Trang and Ranong). The second stage of the relief effort has started with restoration of survivors' homes, and work on tourist spots, which would be supported by a budget of around 1.5 billion baht from the power decentralisation panel. (Source: The Bangkok Post)


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Tsunami update 1 January 2005

Posted by hasekamp on 1 January 2005 at 14:59 PM
New Year's gathering was somber: About 500 people gathered at Central Festival on the outskirts of Phuket City last night in a somber and emotional candlelit gathering to remember those killed by last Sunday’s tsunami. Interior Minister Bhokin Bhalakula, Phuket Governor Udomsak Usawarangkura and government officers also attended the memorial gathering. Each person received a candle and a white rose. Songs, both in Thai and English, were sung to encourage survivors and to commemorate those who lost their lives. At midnight the candles were lit and there was a moment of silence for the victims. In Patong, a couple of dozen people assembled on the beach to light candles. Couples hugged tearfully as they looked out at the sea from which the destruction had thundered in just six days earlier.
A strained atmosphere pervaded nearby Soi Bangla where hundreds jammed the bars, trying hard to put the horror of 2004 behind them and celebrate life in 2005, not always successfully. At midnight, fireworks were let off b y a number of hotels along the waterfront in Patong and Kalim. Reflected in the calm sea, their beauty was eerily sad.
Looters in Patong: We, and most Thai peole with us, feel ashamed by hearingt this news: Police have arrested 13 people for looting damaged businesses in the Patong area. Police said that since December 26 his officers had arrested nine Thais and four Burmese for looting. In accordance with the law, people engaged in theft at a time of crisis like this are subject to severe penalties of up to five years and a fine of up to 10,000 baht and will not receive bail. They have already appeared in court and are now awaiting further hearings before the judge.
Patong beach: The situation in Patong has improved greatly. Tourists can travel in safety to the town, and there is still plenty of accommodation that was not damaged by the tsunami. The beach is clean, the water is fine for swimming and the entertainment area in Soi Bangla has reopened for business.
Central website launched Worried relatives and friends of people living in or visiting provinces stricken by Sunday’s tsunami now have a central point for information on victims here. There are all kind of websites where one can post messages for missing people all over the Internet, but that will not help much. One central point is needed. The Official Thai Tsunami Information Center website, set up by the Royal Thai Police, has Thai, English, Japanese, Chinese, French, German and Spanish versions and contains long lists of people injured, killed or missing since the tsunami struck Ranong, Phang Nga, Phuket, Krabi, Trang and Satun provinces. It also has a links page listing a large number of other resources on the Internet relating to the disaster. At least 20 programmers from the Royal Thai Police, along with volunteers, are constantly updating the website from the Information Center at Phuket City Police Station. People can search not only for names but also for details about the injured, the dead people and the missing. "For example, we are including details such as rings on victims’ fingers, photos of the deceased and locations where bodies were found." The address of the site is http://www.csiphuket.com/ (Source: The Phuket Gazette)


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New Year's speech by His Majesty the King

Posted by hasekamp on 1 January 2005 at 14:45 PM
Though expressing grave concern about the natural disaster in the South, His Majesty the King last night singled out the good that has come from the incident: that Thais have once again demonstrated the unique harmony and compassion that has preserved the Kingdom for centuries. In his televised New Year speech, the King began by saying that in 2004 Thailand had witnessed many good things, chief among them being the fact that many Thai athletes won Olympic medals in Athens. Yet, he said, Thailand had also encountered many bad things, and unusual events. As the end of the year drew near, Thailand suffered from a massive natural disaster that led to enormous loss of life and property. He stressed the need for Thais to join hands in rebuilding the nation and the need to develop an effective warning system to avoid such future catastrophes. "Yet this incident demonstrates the compassion of everybody in the Kingdom, be they civilians or soldiers. They are in harmony and feel compassion for others. They are determined to live in peace. They don’t leave others in the face of disaster. They are ready to help others with compassion, both locals and foreigners," said His Majesty.
He said that in one’s life there could not always be happiness, and one had to weather sadness and dangers that are all too difficult to avoid. The King urged everyone to hold on to harmony and their good hearts, which have been the special elements that have helped save the Kingdom from danger and allowed the nation to live in peace for a long time. "As long as we can maintain these elements, we can be sure that the nation will be stable for a long time," said the King. (Source: The Phuket Gazette)


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