NEWS
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Chiang Mai jolted by powerful earthquake

Flash floods decimate homes in Phrae province

Protestors detained at Tha Pae Gate

Visa run turns into a nightmare for Chiang Mai ex-pat

CCTV nabs alleged robber in the act

Preparing the city for the next flood

Flood disaster declared in Uttaradit

Obsession with gambling and addictive substances to be resolved

Academic makes a revealing discovery

Pojaman’s trial postponed until May 25

Chiang Mai jolted by powerful earthquake

Strongest ever recorded for Northern Thailand

Buildings swayed and frightened residents took to the streets last Wednesday afternoon as a powerful earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale rocked Chiang Mai and most of Thailand.

The cracked and broken crown from the top of Phra Thart Chomkitti pagoda in Chiang Saen district. Photo courtesy of Thai News
Fortunately no major damage or injuries were reported other than frayed nerves and cautionary evacuations of some buildings in the city.
The quake’s epicenter was located in western Laos about 166 kilometers from Luang Prabang and 259 kilometers from Chiang Mai in a remote and sparsely settled region.
The quake occurred at 3:56pm and was followed by an aftershock of a 4.7 magnitude tremor at 5:07pm.
Smith Tumsaroch, chairman of the National Disaster Warning Center, said it had been the strongest one known to hit northern Thailand.
Many residents in Chiang Mai became dizzy and some said they felt drunk by the earth’s movement which last between 30 to 45 seconds according to the authorities.
Police and rescue operations were out on the streets checking for damage or any casualties but fortunately an all clear was soon called in to the Disaster Mitigation and Prevention Center.
The quake was felt as far as Bangkok where office workers fled their high rise offices and gathered on the streets of the capital. Many went home early from work.
In Chiang Saen district in Chiang Rai province, about 60 kilometers from the epicenter, a cement and brass part from the top of the Chomkitt pagoda was damaged and some decorative glass pieces fell off, but damage was not extensive, said Prachon Pradsakul, director of the Disaster Mitigation and Prevention Center.
In Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai province, the border area of Thailand nearest to the epicenter, district chief Pongkan Piyapongtulakom said there were no reports of damage or casualties.
In Chiang Rai, Mr Somporn Suprakarn, the chief of Meteorological Department, Chiang Rai Station said there were also several after shocks from the quake but no injuries were reported.
Smith Tumsaroch said cracks were found on the building of the Customs Department’s northern office in Chiang Rai province and tiles fell from its roof. Some cracks were also found at hospital buildings in the province.
Meanwhile, a Royal Irrigation Department spokesman said officials were inspecting any damage that might occur at dams.
It is believed that there is no damage to the dams because they were designed to resist to earthquakes measuring up to 7.0 on the Richter scale. There have been no reports of damage so far.
Culture Minister Khunying Khaisri Sriaroon said she ordered a renovation of the 500-year old Chomkitti pagoda after last Wednesday’s earthquake. Meanwhile, the Fine Arts Department is conducting surveys at other historical sites in the North to evaluate the damage.
In Laos, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Yong Chanthalansy, said by telephone from the capital Vientiane that the earthquake lasted for about 10 seconds. He and another resident of the capital said it was not felt there, 343 kilometers to the southeast.
Yong said there were no initial reports of casualties from the area and that there had been no panic.
In Luang Prabang, several residents contacted by phone described feeling “disoriented” for a period of up to two minutes by the shaking of the earth, while others noticed nothing at all. No damage was immediately visible in the city.
“We could feel it very strongly here,” he said. “It became stronger and went on for about five minutes. It was the strongest I have felt and I have been here for more than seven years.” (CMM Reporters/AP/TNA)


Flash floods decimate homes in Phrae province

Rescue workers clearing mud and debris from the river in Wang Shin.

Saksit Meesubkwang
Heavy rain in Phrae produced flash floods that wiped out at least 10 homes and damaged at least 400 in the Wang Shin district. No injuries were reported.
The floods quickly caused the river that runs through Wang Shin to burst its banks causing panic and havoc among the residents who were unprepared for the onslaught of mud and water.
The water level surpassed 1.5 meters in some places and destroyed some 200 rai of farming land in the district.
Rescue efforts were hampered when one of the main bridges in the area was damaged forcing soldiers of the 12th Calvary to delay their delivery of rice, dry foods and blankets to the victims.
Mr. Atikom Suwanpong, Governor of Phrae, provided villagers with the necessary equipment to help them rebuild the damaged homes and shops.

Residents and officials survey part of the washed out bridge in the Wang Shin district of Phrae.


Protestors detained at Tha Pae Gate

The leader of the White Dove 2006 group shouting to reporters from the back of a pick-up truck as he is whisked away by soldiers.

Saksit Meesubkwang
A group of protesters from Bangkok calling themselves White Dove 2006 were promptly detained by soldiers from the 33rd Army Encampment as they gathered in front of one of Chiang Mai’s most famous landmarks late Friday afternoon.
The group began to hand out leaflets and CD’s when some 20 military police and members of the Chiang Mai police surrounded them and whisked them away in pick-up trucks.
The literature they were attempting to hand out contained messages deemed unfavorable to the current government.
A spokesperson for the military stated that the group lacked the necessary permission to gather at Tha Pae gate where a previously scheduled musical concert was to take place that evening.
Nopparuj Worachit Wuttikul, the apparent leader of the group shouted to the few onlookers about the negative affect the current government is having on the economy and about the worsening situation in the southern provinces as he was driven off by the soldiers.
Of the 20 or so protestors at least 3 were detained and there whereabouts are unknown. Also unknown are what charges if any will be filed against them.
About 50 soldiers remained at Tha Pae gate throughout the evening to prevent any additional unlawful gatherings.

The protestors attempting to distribute anti-government literature at Tha Pae gate.


Visa run turns into a nightmare for Chiang Mai ex-pat

One of the few foreign artists based in Chiang Mai, 63 year-old Alain, endured a penniless week in Laos and lost 4.5 kg in weight after being denied re-entry to Thailand on what began as an ordinary visa trip.
“I don’t know what would have happened but for the generosity and trust of a guest house owner in Huay Sai” recalled Alain. “He let me stay there free for 4 days until some money came into his bank from a friend in Chiangmai. I was eating one meal a day, mainly noodles, and never drank so much water in my life!”
Having left Chiang Khong in Thailand and crossed the Mekong River into Laos 2 weeks ago, Alain was horrified to be refused re-entry because he did not possess an outbound air ticket from Thailand.
“All the Thai official would say was ‘The law is the law’ over and over again” said Alain.
After receiving 5,000b from the friend, Alain paid the guest house and embarked on a bone-shaking 29 hour bus ride to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. Meanwhile, friends in Chiangmai mounted displays of his work at The Blue Parrot Guest House on soi 3, Loi Kroh and at the Writers Club Wine Bar, Rachadamnoen Road, to help raise funds.
“In Vientiane I met a Frenchman I hadn’t seen for 6 years and he helped me to get a tourist visa. My re-entry across the Friendship Bridge into Nongkhai was so smooth I could hardly believe it!”
Three prints on silk sold the first evening they were displayed at The Blue Parrot, and both displays continue until their creator is back on his feet.


CCTV nabs alleged robber in the act

The Chiang Mai police are pleased by their latest high tech assisted arrest.
A man was filmed live by one of the newly installed CCTV cameras emptying the pockets of an unconscious motorbike driver on Boonruangrit road.
As police at the CCTV command center several kilometers away watched the alleged thief on their video screens, calls went out to their colleagues in the area who arrived at the scene within minutes.
As the men in brown arrived the alleged thief was fleeing the scene but was quickly detained and searched.
A Nokia brand telephone belonging to the unconscious victim was found in the pockets of Mr. Banchong Wonglar, 28, a native of Phrae province who was then transported to the Phuping police station for further questioning.
The victim, Mr. Long Loongta, 25, who apparently fainted while driving his motorbike suffered no injuries and recovered his mobile phone. (CMM Reporters)


Preparing the city for the next flood

The Ping River that runs through the city looking good.

Saksit Meesubkwang
Taking lessons from last years devastating floods that inundated parts of Chiang Mai, Mr. Paiboon Wattanasiritham, Social Development and Human Security Minister chaired the Disaster Risk Area meeting at Chiang Mai City Hall where all 24 district chief officers and some 200 residents listened in on how to prepare for the next floods.
The presentation focused on risk areas along the Ping River, water management at the reservoirs and the widening of the Ping River that has been taking place for the past 8 months.
Some 20 thousand handbooks will be handed out to residents who live near the flood prone areas to educate them as to how to react when there is a potential for flooding.
The Governor of Chiang Mai, Mr. Wichai Srikwan, asked the district chiefs and region administrators to survey high risk areas and report back on their findings. He added that response time from the provincial authorities to aid affected areas will be within 24 hours.


Flood disaster declared in Uttaradit

Bangkok braces for high waters

The province of Uttaradit has declared four districts as disaster zones due to flooding, while Bangkok residents brace for possible flood caused by high tide and heavy rainfall.
Provincial Disaster Prevention and Mitigation chief Nithipat Pimpiriyakul, said that flooding triggered by incessant rain prompted provincial authorities to declare four districts, including the provincial seat, as disaster zones.
The declaration means that the province will be able to disperse its local budget of Bt50 million to help flood victims immediately.
The province also warned local residents to be aware of landslides and further flooding.
Meanwhile, in Bangkok, Hydrographic Department deputy director Nakhon Thanuwong said that the unusual overflowing of the Chao Phraya River on late Thursday signaled an abrupt break from seasonal weather patterns, as high tides normally occur in September, but has happened sooner this year because of several circumstances.
Unseasonable high tides, run-off from the north, and heavy rainfall, Rear Admiral Nakhon said, together with strong southwesterly winds which have blown sea water into the river, means that the normal outflow from the Chao Phraya to the sea is temporarily not happening.
Water levels in the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok are expected to remain high this week, so residents of low-lying areas must brace for possible flooding.
Deputy Bangkok governor Wanlop Suwandee said there are 14 flood-prone locations in Bangkok, so people living alongside the Chao Phraya River, the Bangkok Noi and Mahasawat canals, and in particular those living outside the flood-prevention zone should move their belongings to higher ground. (TNA)


Obsession with gambling and addictive substances to be resolved

The Minister of Culture’s draft on the Morality Promotion Act addresses a master plan and strategies to resolve society’s obsession with gambling and addictive substances.
Minister of Culture Khunying Khaisri Sri-arun said that Deputy Minister and Minister of Social Development and Human Security Paiboon Wattanasiritham has already approved the draft.
The Morality Promotion Act requires the government to set up three working groups, including the National Morality Caravan, the Morality Promotion Committee, and the Morality Promotion Office. The Minister adds that the Act draft will be submitted to the Cabinet for approval soon.
The three working groups consist of representatives of government, private, and civil sectors. They have a responsibility to inform the government and the ministry of the latest situation of gambling and addictive substances and help the ministry draft the master plan on the suppression of immoral behaviors. (NNB)


Academic makes a revealing discovery

An academic of the Mahidol University and member the Committee for Safe and Constructive Media revealed that sexually explicit content on the Internet has gained more popularity among Thai adolescents during the past three months.
Mahidol University’s academic, Itthiphol Preetiprasong said the situation of cyber pornography in Thailand is in crisis due to the popularity of sexually explicit conversations and actions found on tens of thousands of websites. In addition, Mr. Itthiphol says his report found that most users of obscene audio-text businesses are children and adolescents.
Mr Itthiphol added that today the majority of media content via television contains inappropriate relationships between men and women, aggressive behaviors, rude words, and materialism. Moreover, he blames the printed media, including women’s magazines which publish photographs of actresses wearing inappropriate dresses of being responsible for present social problems facing the nation. (NNB)


Pojaman’s trial postponed until May 25

She pleads not guilty

The wife of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra pleaded not guilty in her latest court appearance to tax evasion charges over selling shares, in the first criminal case to be prosecuted against family members of the deposed leader since last year’s coup d’etat.
At the tax evasion trial at the Criminal Court, Mrs. Pojaman Shinawatra, her step-brother Bannapot Damapong, and her personal aide each pleaded innocent to charges of tax evasion and perjury in the Bangkok court.
The case centers on a 1997 transfer of shares in Shinawatra Computer and Communication (SCC), which later became Thailand’s telecom giant Shin Corp, which was sold last year to Singapore’s Temasek Holdings.
Mr. Thaksin’s family earned US$1.9 billion tax-free in the Shin-Temasek deal, which sparked street protests last year.
An investigation by an Assets Examination Committee appointed by the current government found in April that Mrs. Pojaman and Mr. Bannapot had to pay back taxes of about Bt546 million on the share transfer.
Investigators ruled that Mrs. Pojaman and her step-brother colluded to lie to the authorities in order to evade tax liability in connection with the 1997 transfer of 4.5 million Shin shares worth 738 million baht (over US$20 million) to avoid paying taxes.
Shortly after the opening of the trial, lawyers of the defendants successfully asked the Criminal Court for a delay until May 25 to give them more time to prepare their defense. (TNA)