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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Traditional New Year ceremony held at Chiang Mai’s Night Safari

Mixed feelings and objectives as Bangkok protests end

Petrol bomb components found behind red-shirts’ stage at City Hall

Fierce winds and severe thunderstorms hit Chiang Mai

Abhisit asserts Thailand determined to host ASEAN summit

Thailand says no country has confirmed issue of a passport to ex-premier

Red shirts rally in Chiang Mai to protest police raid and closure of radio station

Thai Journalists’ Assn.calls for independent enquiry into rift in society

Chiang Rai red shirts end rally, go underground

Key protest leader seeks parliamentary immunity from arrest

Chiang Mai Songkran road accidents claim 13 lives

Crowds, tradition, perfumed water, and a water gate - Chiang Rai’s Songkran

Rural women average 46% annual return on investment in village banks

 

Traditional New Year ceremony held at Chiang Mai’s Night Safari

CMM Reporters
Traditional Thai New Year ceremonies, the ‘Suma Lathod’ and ‘Rod Nam Dam Hua’, were held at Chiang Mai Night Safari on the evening of April 15 as part of the city’s Songkran festival. These ceremonies, dating from ancient times, are held annually to ask forgiveness and to receive blessings which will bring happiness, luck and prosperity in the New Year, and also involve paying respect to Phu Yai (the most senior people) in the traditional manner by gently pouring holy water on their hands.

A wonderful fashion show featuring traditional Lanna clothing followed the ceremony.
On the last day of the New Year celebrations, prominent Chiang Mai citizens traditionally give holy water to the leading member of the ancient Lanna Royal Family, rulers in the north of Thailand since the founding of the city. Prominent Chiang Mai personalities from all walks of life, organisations, and companies gathered to honour Chao Dr. Duangduen na Chiengmai.
The Rod Nam Dam Hua ceremony itself began at 6.30 p.m. with traditional dances from beautifully costumed performers. The magnificent parade, of celebrants carrying Lanna relics, with Chao Dr. Duangduen na Chiengmai in its centre, began at 7 p.m., filling the atmosphere with warmth and joy. After the parade ended, Chao Dr. Duangduen na Chiengmai took her position, seated on the traditionally decorated stage, and received the holy water from the guests.
Following the ceremony, a grand fashion show, Pha Lanna Phusa Vichitre, delighted guests with dazzling clothes made from rare and finely woven local fabrics in amazing combinations and styles.
The Songkran celebrations continued at the Night Safari until the end of the following day, with a Kad Mau local market, traditional performances, a musical fountain, an elephant performance, and displays of baby animals.

Chao Dr. Duangduen na Chiengmai, a leading member of the ancient Lanna Royal Family (centre) was the guest of honour at the celebrations.

Chiang Mai residents line up to pay their respects.

 

Mixed feelings and objectives as Bangkok protests end

CMM Reporters
Three weeks of demonstrations by UDD supporters ended early last week in an anticlimactic climb-down and warrants for the arrest of the movement’s leaders. An arrest warrant was also issued for ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra.

A Thai anti-government protestor looks on from one of the last red shirt strongholds in Bangkok as the violent demonstrations came to a close last Tuesday, April 14. (AP Photo/David Longstreath)
The original aim of the protests, to bring down PM Abhisit Vejjajiva and his government and force a general election, led to street battles involving weapons and extreme violence, two deaths of local residents (themselves uninvolved as protestors), the transference of the riots to Pattaya, causing the cancellation of the ASEAN finance ministers’ summit, and the somewhat belated involvement of the military, which finally brought the remaining 2,000 hard-core protestors to their knees.
The divisive involvement from afar of ex-PM Thaksin ended with his interview, shown both on CNN and the BBC’s world services, which contrasted strongly in its presentation, its inaccuracies and its general air of confusion with a similar interview given by PM Abhisit.
Media reports had indicated that Thaksin’s intention was to return to Thailand to lead a grass-roots ‘revolution’, centred on support from the rural communities and the city poor. However, a number of first-hand reports are now beginning to suggest that PM Thaksin’s position in the conflict is being sidelined by a general feeling amongst UDD protestors that their efforts are aimed at democracy itself, a voice of the people for the people, achieved by means of an election by the people, rather than their current perception of a government by the elite for the elite.
The reported lack of enthusiasm on the part of the police, particularly in Pattaya, to control the riots is being suggested as an indication of sympathy amongst ordinary police personnel towards the protestors’ aims.
Media reports are also contrasting the violent final response of the army to the UDD protestors with their response last autumn to the PAD’s protest, which closed down Suvarnabhumi International Airport for a week and caused irreparable damage to an already weakened economy. The leaders of that protest were also arrested, but immediately released on bail, and may now be facing lesser charges, according to last week’s Bangkok Post.
It has also been noted that internet sites and a TV station linked to the UDD have been closed down, while, last autumn, a TV station run by a PAD leader was allowed to continue broadcasting. Such comparisons cannot but encourage the increasing divisions now apparent in Thai society. Thais resident outside the kingdom are reinforcing the protestors’ change in focus from support for their fallen leader and his government to complaints about the state of Thailand’s democracy, its perceived double standards and its perception of provincial people as unintelligent and unable to be objective about political issues.
Other quotes from Bangkok residents suggest that, although PM Abhisit may have gained some popularity by sending in the troops and ending the stand-off, ex-PM Thaksin will not give up his struggle for reinstatement just yet. A prominent Thai historian is quoted by The Times newspaper as saying, “The Government has underestimated the wrath of rural and marginalised people, and that is partly why they have not made enough effort to reach out to heal the rift.”
It seems clear that the distance between the opposing groups has widened as a result of last week’s chaos, and that a grass-roots movement, independent of any former connections and familiar to those who have studied world history, may have strengthened.


Petrol bomb components found behind red-shirts’ stage at City Hall

Components which might be used in arson and other sabotage attempts have been found at a makeshift platform erected by red-shirt protestors outside Chiang Mai City Hall.
Chiang Mai governor, Amornphan Nimanand, said the authorities had suspected the northern city might become a target of sabotage following last Monday’s chaos in Bangkok, after finding quantities of gasoline, bottles and pieces of cloth (all materials which could be used to make petrol bombs) at the back of the stage erected by Red Shirt protesters. Tyres and unlit torches, which could easily be set ablaze with gasoline, had also been found in a vehicle parked outside City Hall.
According to Amornphan, although the Red Shirt protesters who had earlier gathered outside the provincial hall had dispersed and their platform had been dismantled, arrest warrants will be issued for those allegedly involved. (TNA)


Fierce winds and severe thunderstorms hit Chiang Mai

CMM reporters
A fierce summer storm with severe winds hit Chiang Mai on April 11, as the city was preparing to begin its New Year celebrations. Giant advertising billboards at several major intersections were toppled by the strength of the winds, with power failures occurring in several areas.
In Muang district, trees were uprooted and posters and billboards littered the streets, closing traffic routes and a number of sois. The Hong Hoi area of the Chiang Mai/Lamphun Road became impassable due to falling debris, causing problems for motorists. In rural areas outside the city, power cuts lasted for some hours, and many trees were uprooted, damaging homes.
Municipal workers were forced to cut away the steel frames of demolished advertising billboards in order to safely remove them, with electricity board workers having to prioritise repairs in rural areas because of damage caused to residents’ properties.
A local government official confirmed that a survey was under way to estimate the full cost of the damage.


Abhisit asserts Thailand determined to host ASEAN summit

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva asserted on Thursday that his government is determined to host a renewed session of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit with the six dialogue partners. The scheduled Pattaya meeting was abruptly cancelled after anti-government protesters stormed into its hotel venue last weekend.
Returning to Government House for the first time in three weeks after the anti-government demonstrators ended their rally last Tuesday, Abhisit told a press conference that his government could not allow the summit to meet with failure, stating, “We will decide on the dates for the ASEAN plus 3 and the ASEAN plus 6 in the next few days. I will meet with the secretary general of ASEAN in the next two days.” (TNA)


Thailand says no country has confirmed issue of a passport to ex-premier

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Thursday indicated that no countries have confirmed news reports concerning issued passports for former PM Thaksin Shinawatra.
Speaking of progress in the search for the fugitive ex-premier, Abhisit said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had already informed international agencies concerned of his government’s intention to bring the ousted premier to face trial in Thailand.
The ministry has notified all countries having diplomatic ties with the kingdom, that the Thai government is not happy seeing Thaksin use their territory to make political statements.
Regarding news reports that three countries - including Nicaragua, the United Arab Emirates, and Cambodia – had issued passports for Thaksin, the PM said the government was examining the reports, which no country had yet confirmed.
Asked whether the revocation of Thaksin’s passport would make it easier for his arrest, Abhisit said it depended on how many relevant travel documents the former premier had. However, he believed all countries would not allow the use of their territory to undermine the security of other countries, and that international laws and agreements must be respected.
“I cannot tell whether the ex-premier will be finally arrested because we don’t know exactly where he is, and whether the country has an extradition treaty with Thailand,” he said.
On the question of whether conflict in Thailand would end when Thaksin is arrested, the premier said he had not thought about it, saying, “Mr. Thaksin’s arrest must be done according to the law. One approach to permanently ending the conflicts is to try to seek a common political way out for all conflicting parties.” (TNA)


Red shirts rally in Chiang Mai to protest police raid and closure of radio station

CMM reporters
Following searches, the temporary closure and the seizure of equipment by local police of a community radio station based at the Waroros Grand Palace Hotel and owned by Rak Chiang Mai 51 leader Phetchawat Wattanapongsirikul, local red shirts laid siege to a police station in Muang district and the home of the local police commander.
Approximately 300 protestors gathered initially outside the home of Pol Maj Gen Sommai Kong Wisaisuk, commander of the Chiang Mai police, shouting insults and accusing him of double standards in that a radio station belonging to the opposing yellow shirts had not been raided or closed down. Riot police dispersed the protestors, who moved to the Muang police station, submitting a petition and insisting on speaking with the station commander, who proved not to be available.
Pol Lt Col Sawas Larkad, the deputy commander, told protestors that the provincial administration had ordered the radio station closed as it had broadcast threats and taunts which had encouraged chaos in the city.
The protestors, however, continued to insist that the Wihok (yellow shirt) radio station must also be closed, threatening to stage a huge rally involving 50,000 demonstrators if their demands were not met.


Thai Journalists’ Assn. calls for independent enquiry into rift in society

CMM reporters
Following the ending of the UDD protests in Bangkok and Pattaya, the Thai Journalists’ Association (TJA) and its 12 affiliate organisations have called for an independent enquiry into the root causes of the political and social strife which has resulted in violent confrontations across the kingdom during the last few months.
The rector of Thammasat University, Prinva Thewanaruemitkul, stated last week that “Even though the government won this time, conflict remains in our society. The government needs to think about helping people live together peacefully in this country.”
Speaking at the TJA press conference, Prinva explained that an independent enquiry should include representatives from the government, the House of Representatives, and relevant civic groups, and should identify the root causes of the mounting turmoil over the last several years, and the means by which the process can be reversed.
During the recent protests, three Thai journalists were assaulted by protestors in separate incidents. UDD supporters told reporters that they no longer trusted the Thai media as they felt it was misrepresenting their cause by reporting in a biased manner.


Chiang Rai red shirts end rally, go underground

CMM reporters
Chiang Rai red shirts, the ‘June 24 Group of Democracy and Love Thaksin Club’, have ended their peaceful rally in the city and dispersed, according to their core leader, Jeeranant Chantrawong, who stated that, “We are not defeated, but we stop for the safety of the red-shirted demonstrators in Bangkok.”
The protest had been taking place in front of the Chiang Rai governor’s residence, where a stage and tents had been erected. Jeeranant stated that the group would continue their anti-government protests, but in a different manner as an underground movement.
Two major groups are active in Chiang Rai; the UDD’s Chiang Rai 52, and the Chiang Rai Hug Pracha Thipatai, (Chiang Rai Loves Democracy). A favourite site for demonstrations is the Saenphu Hotel in Chiang Rai’s municipal area.


Key protest leader seeks parliamentary immunity from arrest

Opposition Puea Thai Party MP Jatuporn Prompan said the House of Representatives will decide this week whether or not he should receive parliamentary privileges which may lead to his immunity regarding an arrest warrant already issued for his involvement in the Red Shirt anti-government protests.
Jatuporn, one of a dozen leaders of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) protests which culminated in last Monday’s street chaos, the deaths of two civilians and injuries for over a hundred others, said he was merely fighting for freedom under the existing rule of law, but it remains to be seen if most of his colleagues in the House of Representatives will vote to support the immunity he is seeking.
Other UDD leaders, including Veera Musikapong and Nattawut Saikua, had earlier surrendered and are currently being detained pending police investigation into last week’s violence which occurred under emergency rule and coincided with Songkran festivities.
Jatuporn said he was not resisting arrest or asking MPs to endorse his immunity during the House meeting this Wednesday, but he insisted legal procedures in his case must be applied according to the law. The Puea Thai Party MP said last Monday’s chaos, with the torching of buses and shootouts claiming two deaths in the Nang Lerng area near Government House, had not been committed by Red Shirt protesters but by others “in disguise and on covert missions, including police officers, street thugs and the Blue Shirts.” He added that a number of Red Shirt protesters had been killed by soldiers and others who then disposed of the bodies, and that the buses which were torched in the streets of Bangkok had been driven through areas secured by the soldiers.
The opposition MP said he offered Bt500,000 in cash to anyone providing information about the Nang Lerng shootout leading to the arrest of the gunman who had killed the local civilians. He affirmed that his Puea Thai Party and the UDD would compile facts and figures behind Monday’s chaos in order to fight for justice in court at a later date.
The Red Shirt leader held Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva - who decided to have the military deal with the protesters under emergency rule - as having the final responsibility for last week’s street chaos, as well as the deaths and injuries of the civilians. The PM earlier announced that no UDD protesters were killed in last Monday’s violence. Defence Ministry spokesman Col. Chittasak Charoensombat dismissed allegations that the bodies of slain UDD protesters had been incinerated at Sakhon Soonprachasan temple in the Lad Prao area, but said that temple was only used as a temporary shelter for the soldiers. (TNA)


Chiang Mai Songkran road accidents claim 13 lives

CMM reporters
According to Prachon Prachsakul, head of Chiang Mai ‘s office of Provincial Public Disaster Prevention, road accidents during the holiday period to April 15 claimed 13 lives, and injured a further 11 people. The majority of the accidents occurred between 4 p.m. and midnight; victims were mainly local residents, with drink-driving a contributory cause, as was not wearing a helmet while driving a motorcycle.


Crowds, tradition, perfumed water, and a water gate - Chiang Rai’s Songkran

Vehicles and pedestrians get a thorough dowsing at Chiang Rai’s water gate.

Lee Roy Webster
Almost 50,000 residents and visitors gathered in the northern city of Chiang Rai to celebrate the Songkran New Year festival. As in Chiang Mai, the main source of enjoyment is the throwing of water, with huge crowds in and on all manner of transportation and on foot, turning the city centre into a facsimile of happy children playing in a kindergarten yard!
This year, however, Chiang Rai municipality scored a first …with a special Songkran ‘water gate’. Quite simply, water from fire trucks is pumped into a huge basin, from where, under pressure, it is pumped to a large number of nozzles installed in the gate. For even more effect, two water pipelines are set either side of the water gate, continually sending great bows of water into the air, glittering in the sunshine like rainbows! Spectacular, and very effective, as the entire parade, and anyone in the area, gets thoroughly soaked!
A thousand beautiful colours and costumes, a peaceful celebration: the people give water to the Buddha images for luck, health, for forgiveness for their sins, for forgiving others who had sinned, for respecting their religion, the Buddhistic lifestyle and their traditions. Some of the crowd had coloured and perfumed water in big bottles - scented with flowers, with tamarind, jasmine and orchids.
The parade featured trucks with beautifully decorated figures and animals from Buddhist history - tigers, oxen, elephants and birds – and traditionally costumed people from Chiang Rai’s community were seated on the trucks, welcoming the crowds in a language from the ancient past.

A colourful parade featured figures and animals from Buddhist history.


Rural women average 46% annual return on investment in village banks

The 2009 Baan Pong Women’s Group, which began last year with 20 members, has already added several new members this year.

Ryan Young
While the rest of the world has been recovering from this year’s stock market drop, a group of women in Mae Taeng have been celebrating with a 46% return on their investment. The Baan Pong Women’s Group started saving together last April. Each month, the group would meet and each member would save 50 baht. The money would then be used to provide loans to each other.
In the past, most women who wanted a loan for their shop or farm borrowed from local moneylenders who charge very high interest rates. Large lending organisations like Nim See Seng charge anywhere from 5-10% per month. Smaller, more local lenders often charge up to 20% per DAY. While the actual cost is often hidden, most borrowers know that their business’ profits will go to repay the loan.
With assistance from the Common Interest Foundation, the Baan Pong Women’s Group has decided to become their own moneylenders. The group started saving together and used their own money to provide loans to each other. Within one year, the group generated over 12,000 baht in profit. At the annual meeting, the Women’s Group decided to donate 10% of the fund to local projects and then disburse the remaining to the members in the form of a dividend. As result, members made 46% on their savings.
After seeing their initial success, the Women’s Group has decided to expand their operations this year by increasing the monthly savings to 100 baht each as well as adding more members from their village.
The Common Interest Foundation has been operating since 2005 in northern Thailand. Its goal is to help rural villagers to establish their own Village Banks in order to provide better economic opportunities for their area. Village Banking provides a safe and local place for rural people to save and borrow. Funds remain local and are used to improve small businesses and farms.
More information on Village Banking can be found at www.commoninterest.org or www.microfinancethailand.com.