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Update January 2019


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Thailand News
 

Heavy smog, worsened by weather, raises alarm across Asia

City road crews spray water in the hope of controlling some of the smog in Bangkok, Monday, Jan. 14. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Tassanee Vejpongsa and Kaweewit Kaewjinda

Bangkok (AP) — Unusually high levels of smog worsened by weather patterns are raising alarm across Asia, with authorities in Bangkok handing out face masks and preparing to seed clouds for rain to clear the air.

A combination of construction dust, auto exhaust and other pollutants, lingering over Bangkok due to prevailing weather patterns, has taken air quality to unhealthy levels in recent days.

"I admit these are temporary solutions but we have to do it. Other long term measures will also be implemented, Police Gen. Aswin Kwanmuang told a meeting of army, police, pollution control and other officials on Monday.

The city was handing out some 10,000 face masks, spraying water to help settle dust and tightening controls on when big trucks can use city streets — the Thai Pollution Control Department said that about half of the high levels of PM 2.5, tiny particulate matter that can dangerously clog lungs, was due to diesel engine emissions.

The Department of Royal Rainmaking and Agricultural Aviation said it was preparing to deploy two planes for cloud seeding between Tuesday and Friday, if conditions are suitable.

In South Korea, unusually high PM 2.5 levels prompted emergency measures to reduce the health hazard. The country's National Institute of Environmental Research said the daily average of 120 micrograms per cubic meter in Seoul as of late Monday afternoon was the worst since it began monitoring for PM 2.5 in 2015.

Over the years, South Korea has suffered repeated spells when silt and pollution-laden winds have swept over from northern China. But vehicle emissions are also a problem.

Thailand's air pollution problem tends to wax and wane partly depending on the season. As in much of the rest of Asia, burning of fields after harvests can cause severe smog at certain times of the year. The spring smog has come early to Bangkok.

"There are a lot of factories and now that the pollution score is higher we have to be more careful," said Oranart Phongpreecha, 55, a housewife who lives just outside of the Thai capital.

"It's not that I get sick more often. But when I go outside, I have a sore throat and I can't see clearly. ... I'm afraid that polluted air is going into my lungs so I have to protect myself."

Pralong Dumrongthai, head of the Thai Pollution Control Department, said long term solutions would include switching to use of electric vehicles and better quality gasoline.

He said the weather patterns suggest Bangkok might be stuck with bad air for up to three months.

"I ask for public understanding when your vehicles are being checked, especially those that emit black smoke or big trucks," he said. "We need your cooperation."

Pollution generally is out of control by the time countries take action. India's cities are among the world's smoggiest and it is just starting to tackle the problem.

The Indian government has announced a five-year program to cut air pollution by up to 30 percent from 2017 levels in the country's 102 worst-affected cities.

Key targets include reducing burning of field waste, firewood and charcoal, cleaning up thermal power and auto emissions and heavily polluting brick production and controlling dust from construction.

Critics say the plan lacks details on enforcement and funding.


Political poll gauges reactions to possible change of election date

A demonstrator holds a poster demanding the general election not be postponed in Bangkok Tuesday, Jan. 8. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

NNT

Bangkok – A survey by Suan Dusit Poll of 1,029 eligible voters on reactions to the possibility of the general election being moved from February 24 found 31.5 percent of respondents urging all political parties to not cause unrest if such a change occurs. Up to 48.4 percent said the move would allow candidates more time to campaign and the Election Commission (EC) more time to prepare while 49.17 percent said it would impact political stability and affect the economy and social cohesion.

If the election were to change date, 63.75 percent of respondents said they would be disappointed and fearful of economic and political instability.

Thailand’s political parties meanwhile have continued their campaigns to attract votes, showing no signs of concern that the general election date may change.

The Democrat party has unveiled 30 candidates to run in Bangkok and kicked off a campaign to encourage voting. Its members have brushed off concerns that the general election date may be moved, noting that the law compels the vote to take place within 150 days.

Chat Pattana Party has opened its first coordination center in Bangkok and announced its overarching policy of “No Problem”, which is to focus on security, attracting tourism and investment and dealing with air pollution.

Members of Phuea Thai Party have met with citizens in Chiang Kwan district of Roi Et province, introducing themselves and policies to do with propping up rubber prices and public health.

The Future Forward Party was similarly active in the northeast with candidates announcing policies to do with justice and progressive farming in Maha Sarakham and Kalasin.

Seri Ruam Thai Party opened a coordination center in Phang Nga province and announced a platform to end poverty, corruption, illegal drugs, southern violence and political conflicts as well as management of palm and rubber prices and support for tourism.


Royally bestowed items delivered to Pabuk victims

NNT

Nakhon Si Thammarat – The volunteer center, under the patronage of His Majesty the King of Thailand, has delivered royally-bestowed packages to the victims of Tropical Storm Pabuk in Nakhon Si Thammarat province.

On Sunday, Admiral Pawit Rujitet, chief of the volunteer center, handed relief bags and necessities to Nakhon Si Thammarat governor Chamroen Tipayapongtada. All items will be distributed to families affected by the recent storm. 

Admiral Pawit also relayed His Majesty’s concerns, saying His Majesty had asked volunteers to assist in the recovery and rehabilitation of affected communities. 

In addition, Admiral Pawit presented educational equipment and supplies to local schools and students. 

In Nakhon Si Thammarat, more than 364,000 families or nearly 680,000 people were battered by Pabuk earlier this month. The storm claimed three lives and destroyed 46,000 houses, electricity poles and trees. 


Social Development Min oversees projects in Mae Hong Son

NNT

Mae Hong Son – Thailand’s Ministry of Social Development and Human Security has followed up on the implementation of development policies in the northern province of Mae Hong Son.

The inspection team was led by the minister himself, Gen Anantaporn Kanjanatat. He was accompanied by ministry officials and members of the One Home campaign.

During Sunday’s visit, Gen Anantaporn listened to people’s complaints and needs and asked his subordinates to provide solutions accordingly, in the hope of eradicating the existing social gap as well as increase public access to state-run services.

Affirming the government’s commitment to raising living standards, Gen Anantaporn said his ministry would continue assisting children, the elderly, women, persons with disabilities, the underprivileged and those in need, making sure they have equal access to welfare and public services. 

Mae Hong Son is a remote, mountainous province in northern Thailand, bordering Myanmar. It is approximately 924 kilometers north of Bangkok. It has about 274,000 residents, many of whom are members of hill tribes and ethic minorities.


PM visits Bangkok communities

NNT 

Bangkok - Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha visited various communities in Bangkok on Wednesday, to oversee the implementation of government policies.

Gen Prayut made his first stop at Lam Or Tan Canal in Lat Krabang district to follow up on the area’s aquatic plant management project, which has adopted biological methods to make use of water hyacinth as well as prevent it from expanding in waterways. 

The prime minister then traveled to Kriang Krai Market to meet local people whom he asked to be patient, saying his administration’s development policies will eventually come to fruition as stability and prosperity take time to attain while assuring all sides that his visit this week was not to garner support from Thai voters ahead of the election. 

His next stop was Nong Chok Market. There, he explained to social welfare cardholders that although the 300-baht cash handout doesn’t cover all monthly expenses, the government is determined to help ease the adversities of the poor and low-income earners. 

Gen Prayut then traveled to Wat Mai Charoen Rat School in Nong Chok district to take part in traditional Thai games and watch traditional dances performed by Wat Mai Charoen Rat School students. 

The prime minister made his last stop at a new agricultural theory learning center where he joined 25 farmers in a traditional rice harvest practice. He asked the producers to follow safe and organic methods in their farming.


Australia praises Thai move on Saudi, concerned about player

In this image made from video, woman protesters march with a sign outside the building housing the Saudi consulate in Sydney, Thursday, Jan. 10. (Australia Broadcast Corporation via AP)

Kaweewit Kaewjinda and Trevor Marshallsea

Bangkok (AP) — Australia's foreign minister praised Thailand for its handling of a young Saudi woman who fled her family to seek asylum in Australia, but also reminded it of continuing concern about a Bahraini soccer player granted asylum in Australia who remains in Thai detention.

Marise Payne met with senior Thai officials in Bangkok on Thursday after Australia announced it would assess the request for asylum by 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, who was stopped Saturday at a Bangkok airport on her way to Australia and her passport seized. She said she was fleeing abuse by her family.

Payne told reporters that Australia's review of Alqunun's case is already underway.

She quashed speculation that Alqunun might accompany her back to Australia "because there are steps which are required in the process which Australia, and any other country considering such a matter, would have to go through."

Confined to an airport transit hotel, Alqunun conducted an online appeal for help, garnering tens of thousands of followers on Twitter and enough public and diplomatic support to convince Thai officials to admit her temporarily under the protection of U.N. officials. The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees quickly deemed her a legitimate refugee.

Alqunun's case has highlighted the cause of women's rights in Saudi Arabia. Several female Saudis fleeing abuse by their families have been caught trying to seek asylum abroad in recent years and returned home. Human rights activists say many similar cases have gone unreported.

She has attracted interest worldwide, particularly in Australia. In downtown Sydney on Thursday, four women dressed in jeans and calling themselves the Secret Sisterhood held a topless protest outside the building housing the Saudi Consulate, calling on Australia to grant Alqunun residency.

Alqunun's father arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday, but his daughter refused to meet with him. Thailand Immigration Police chief Lt. Gen. Surachate Hakparn said the father denied physically abusing Alqunun or trying to force her into an arranged marriage, which were among the reasons she gave for her flight.

Surachate said the father wanted his daughter back but respected her decision. Surachate described him as a governor in Saudi Arabia.

"He has 10 children. He said the daughter might feel neglected sometimes," Surachate said.

Payne was also asked by reporters about the case of Hakeem al-Araibi, a 25-year-old former member of Bahrain's national soccer team, who was granted refugee status in Australia in 2017 after fleeing his homeland, where he said he was persecuted and tortured. He was arrested while on holiday in Thailand last November due to an Interpol notice in which Bahrain sought his custody after he was sentenced in absentia in 2014 to 10 years in prison for allegedly vandalizing a police station — a charge he denies. Bahrain is seeking his extradition.

She said she raised Australia's concerns about the case with Thailand's deputy prime minister and foreign minister.

"The Thai government is most certainly aware of the importance of this matter to Australia," she said. "I do note that there are legal proceedings underway in relation to Mr. al-Araibi, and Australia will continue to be in very close contact with Thai authorities in relation to this."

Al-Araibi, who now plays for Melbourne's Pascoe Vale Football Club, has been publicly critical of the Bahrain royal family's alleged involvement in sports scandals, which puts him at risk of punishment by the Bahraini government.

Al-Araibi has said he was blindfolded and had his legs beaten while he was held in Bahrain in 2012. He said he believed he was targeted for arrest because of his Shiite faith and because his brother was politically active. Bahrain has a Shiite majority but is ruled by a Sunni monarchy, and has a reputation for harsh repression since its failed "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011.

Craig Foster, a former Australian soccer player, held a news conference Thursday in Sydney to issue a joint call for al-Araibi's release with Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Sydney-based Gulf Institute for Democracy and Human Rights.

After commending FIFA, soccer's world governing body, and Australia's Football Federation for supporting al-Araibi's release, Foster criticized the Asian Football Confederation and its head, Salman al-Khalifa.

"Sheikh Salman is obligated to support Hakeem. He is obligated to do everything in his power to advocate, both privately and publicly, and to use the immense leverage that football has, with the Bahrain government, his own government, he's a Bahrainian national, and also with the Thai government to release Hakeem. The silence of the Asian Football Confederation is not just confounding, it's absolutely disgraceful," he said.


Gunmen kill 4 volunteers guarding southern Thailand school

Hat Yai, Thailand (AP) — Gunmen disguised as state security personnel fatally shot four paramilitary volunteers guarding a school in insurgency-wracked southern Thailand, police said.

The attackers approached the armed territorial defense volunteers at the school in Pattani province and shot them dead shortly before noon Thursday, police Lt. Col. Wicha Nupannoi said. They seized four HK33 assault rifles from their victims before fleeing, scattering nails and other material on the road to delay pursuers, he said.

On Tuesday, a bomb outside a school and a car bomb elsewhere exploded in nearby Songkhla province, wounding a 12-year-old student, a security guard for teachers and a police medic. A flurry of similar attacks took place in the last week of December. Several targeted Songkhla, which previously had been largely spared the violence.

"The insurgents consider school officials to be symbolic of the Thai Buddhist state's occupation of Malay Muslim territory," Human Rights Watch said in a statement. "They have frequently targeted security personnel assigned to provide students and teachers safe passage to and from school, or protecting the school grounds."

The attacks have occurred during an effort to revitalize peace talks between the Thai government and some insurgent groups. Analysts say the most militant group, the Barisan Revolusi Nasional, is not taking part.

Thai Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan blamed the BRN for Tuesday's bombings. He said the authorities would have to step up efforts to prevent the attacks.

Human Rights Watch also pinned the blame for the region's ongoing violence on the BRN.

The insurgents "attack schools and medical clinics to maim and terrify Buddhist civilians, control the Muslim population, and discredit Thai authorities," Brad Adams, the group's Asia director, said in the statement. "Whatever the rationale, targeting civilians is morally indefensible and a war crime."


Natural Resources Min improving watermanagement

Natural Resources and the Environment Minister Surasak Karnjanarat.

NNT

Bangkok - The Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment is amending laws and regulations to enhance the country’s water management system. 

Natural Resources and the Environment Minister Surasak Karnjanarat says his ministry is reviewing five acts - the Agricultural Land Reform Act, the National Park Act, the Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act, the Forest Act, and the draft Community Forest Act which is currently being deliberated by the National Legislative Assembly. 

The minister expects these amendments to improve the country’s water management system and benefit the wildlife conservation effort. 

In its bid to encourage reforestation, the ministry is giving out seedlings of economic crops to farmers and members of the public to grow in their premises. 

Surasak said his ministry will hold talks with the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives and the Ministry of Commerce to discuss the promotion of wood products in Thailand and the promotion of Thai teak on the global market, adding that private organizations will be invited to join the effort.


Saudi woman seeking asylum can stay temporarily in Thailand

Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, foreground walks by Chief of Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, right, before leaving the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok Monday, Jan. 7. (Immigration police via AP)

Kaweewit Kaewjinda and Aya Batrawy

Bangkok (AP) — An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family over alleged abuse and barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room in a desperate bid for asylum will be allowed to stay in Thailand while her case is evaluated by the U.N. refugee agency, immigration authorities said Monday.

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun grabbed global attention when she sent out pleas for help via social media, saying she feared for her life if she were put on a plane back to Kuwait, where she had slipped away from her family, or her homeland.

Instead, she has been allowed to enter Thailand temporarily under the protection of the U.N. refugee agency, which was expected to take about five to seven days to study her case and her claim for asylum. She said she wants to go to Australia to seek refuge there.

"We will not send anyone to die. We will not do that. We will adhere to human rights under the rule of law," said Thai Immigration Police chief Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn.

Alqunun's plight mirrors that of other Saudi women who in recent years have turned to social media to amplify their calls for help while trying to flee abusive families and other obstacles they face in the conservative kingdom.

Photos released Monday night by immigration police showed Alqunun with Thai and U.N. officials after she left the airport transit hotel room where she had been holed up over the weekend, sending her pleas for help on her Twitter account. She later tweeted that she feels safe under U.N. protection and has got back her passport, which had been taken from her earlier.

Alqunun's ordeal began when she fled from her family while in Kuwait and boarded a flight to Thailand, apparently taking advantage of being away from Saudi Arabia's restrictions on women who cannot travel abroad without a man's consent.

Upon arriving at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport on Saturday night, she said she was met by a man whom she identified at various times as either a Kuwait Airways employee or a Saudi diplomat, who took her passport and said he would help her gain entry to Thailand. Saudi Arabia denies its officials were involved in any way.

When the man returned about an hour later with four or five other people, they said they knew she had run away, that her family wanted her back, and she should go home to Saudi Arabia. She was sent to a hotel room, and told she would be put on a Monday morning flight to Kuwait.

She then went online, sending out pleas for assistance over Twitter, and also barricaded her hotel room door. Global attention was sparked by social media and she did not get on the scheduled morning flight to Kuwait.

Alqunun wrote of being in "real danger" if forced to return to her family in Saudi Arabia, and said in media interviews that she might be killed. She told the BBC that she had renounced Islam and was fearful of her father's retaliation.

Her Twitter account attracted more than 66,000 followers in less than 48 hours and her story grabbed the attention of foreign governments and the U.N. refugee agency. As the pressure grew, with concern expressed by Australian lawmakers, Germany's ambassador to Thailand and human rights agencies, Thai officials agreed to allow U.N refugee officials to meet with her.

The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said it expected to take at least 5-7 days to evaluate her case and claims, according to Surachate, the Thai immigration police chief.

Giuseppe De Vincentiis, the UNHCR representative in Thailand, told journalists he did not know where Alqunun would be staying but that she would be safe because she was under his agency's protection. UNHCR declined to release any details of its meeting with her, but De Vincentiis noted "a good spirit of collaboration so far" with Thai officials.

Surachate said Alqunun's father was due to arrive Monday night, and officials would see if she was willing to meet with him.

"As of now, she does not wish to go back and we will not force her. She won't be sent anywhere tonight," Surachate said at a news conference.

"She fled hardship. Thailand is a land of smiles," he said.

He noted her tweets mentioned "she does not want Islam," adding that "this type of thing, in her country, is a hard crime."

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told The Associated Press that Thailand should let Alqunun continue her journey to Australia.

"She has a valid Australian visa," he said. "The key thing is she should not be sent back to Saudi Arabia, she should not be sent back into harm's way."

Surachate challenged parts of Alqunun's story, including that she had an Australian visa.

"The fact is she didn't have any money. She intended to come here and didn't have any visa to go to Australia. So we have to state the facts here. But we will provide assistance nonetheless," he said.

He later said Kuwait Airways had been at fault for allowing her to board her flight to Thailand without having proper travel documents. The airline did not immediately comment.

Earlier, Surachate had said that the Saudi Embassy had said she had run away from her parents and said she could be in danger. The embassy did not mention that she had rejected Islam.

Her case highlighted Saudi Arabia's male guardianship laws, which require women who want to travel, obtain a passport or marry to have the consent of a male relative —  usually a father or husband — no matter what their age.

It also underscored the limits of the reforms being pushed by Saudi Arabia's powerful Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman as he struggles to repair damage to his reputation after the grisly killing three months ago of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Istanbul.

For runaway Saudi women, fleeing can be a matter of life and death, and they are almost always trying to escape male relatives.

In 2017, Dina Ali Lasloom triggered a firestorm online when she was stopped en route to Australia, where she planned to seek asylum. She was forced to return to Saudi Arabia and was not publicly heard from again, according to activists tracking her whereabouts.

Despite efforts by the Saudi government to curtail the scope of male guardianship laws, women who try to flee their families in Saudi Arabia have few good options inside the kingdom. They often are pressured to reconcile with their families, sent to shelters where their movement is restricted or face arrest for disobeying their legal guardian.

While the Saudi Embassy in Thailand denies Saudi authorities were involved in trying to stop Alqunun from going to Australia, the kingdom has in the past forced its citizens to return home.

Saudi Arabia's charge d'affaires in Bangkok, Abdullah al-Shuaibi, was quoted in Saudi media as saying that Alqunun was stopped by Thai authorities because she did not appear to have a return ticket, a hotel reservation or itinerary to show she was a tourist. He said the Saudi Embassy has no authority to stop anyone at the airport and that such a decision would rest with Thai officials.

"She was stopped by airport authorities because she violated Thai laws," he was quoted as saying in Sabq, a state-aligned Saudi news website. "The embassy is only monitoring the situation."


Tourism restarting in south after passing of Pabuk

Phuket - The Deputy Governor of Phuket has inspected piers in the province, to build confidence among travelers that they are safe now that tropical storm Pabuk has passed.

Deputy Governor of Phuket Supoj Rodruang Na Nong Khai undertook an inspection of Rassada Pier and tourism facilities after the province’s docks were reopened for operations with the passing of the tropical storm. The pier has already seen a rush of tourists and the province is keen to show that the situation is safe.

Most tourists arriving at the pier say they are confident in the safety being provided by authorities. The pier offers boats to islands such Koh Lanta in Krabi, where the weather has also improved significantly and boating is once again allowed.

Villagers of Baan Chong Mai Dam in Krabi’s Ao Luek who previously evacuated to a temporary shelter have begun to return home.


Air pollution again a cause for concern in Bangkok

Bangkok - The Pollution Control Department (PCD) has found that Particulate Matter under 2.5 microns or PM 2.5 is once again above the health limit in Bangkok.

The PCD has reported that atmospheric conditions in the Thai capital have again become unsafe with 50-85 micrograms of PM 2.5 being found per cubic meter in several areas including Kanchanaphisek road, Bang Na, Bangkapi, Din Daeng, Lad Prao, Thonburi and Phayathai.

Similar readings were also found in the vicinity of Bangkok in parts of Nakhon Pathom, Nonthaburi, Pathumthani, Samut Sakhon and Samut Prakan.

Particulates under 10 microns, or PM10, were also found at a rate of 66-132 micrograms per cubic meter in Din Daeng.


SME D Bank offering low-interest loans to storm-hit businesses

NNT 

Bangkok - The Small and Medium Enterprise Development Bank of Thailand (SME D Bank) is introducing a loan scheme to rehabilitate businesses battered by Tropical Storm Pabuk.

According to SME D Bank, businesses affected by the storm will be granted a 6-month non-loan repayment period as well as an additional loan of up to two million baht depending on their credit. The additional loan scheme comes with a repayment period of five years and 0.415% interest per month. 

The bank is also rolling out other loan schemes in the storm-hit south such as a community loan program, an agricultural support program, a tourism loan program, an innovative business loan scheme, and a loan program for family-run stores. Personal loans will come with a 0.42% interest rate and business loans with a 0.25% interest.

Loan applications can be submitted via the “SME D Bank” application. 

In addition, the bank is sending out teams to inspect damage in southern provinces and has opened the Hotline 1357 for financial assistance. 


Saudi woman runaway held in Thailand while fleeing family

Grant Peck and Aya Batrawy

Bangkok (AP) — A Saudi woman used social media to draw attention to her plight trying to flee her family, claiming that authorities in Thailand confiscated her passport and were holding her Sunday at an airport hotel room in Bangkok.

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, 18, began posting on Twitter late Saturday after Thai authorities stopped her in transit from Kuwait. She claims to have a visa for Australia, where she appears to have been planning to seek asylum.

On Twitter, she wrote of being in "real danger" if forced to return to her family under pressure from Saudi authorities. She also posted a copy of her passport to provide evidence of her identity.

For runaway Saudi women, fleeing can be a matter of life and death, and they are almost always doing so to escape male relatives.

Alqunun told Human Rights Watch she was fleeing abuse from her family, including beatings and death threats from her male relatives who forced her to remain in her room for six months for cutting her hair.

"I am giving my family 48 hours (to) either stop or I will publish everything that will incriminate them," she wrote on Twitter.

The Associated Press reached Alqunun by telephone in her hotel room where she spoke briefly, saying that someone took her passport after telling her she could get a visa for Thailand. She said an hour later, several people came and told her they knew she had run away, that her family wants her and she should return to Saudi Arabia. She did not elaborate.

Alqunun told Human Rights Watch that she arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok Saturday evening from Kuwait, but that a diplomat from the Saudi Embassy in Bangkok seized her passport to prevent her traveling to Australia. Saudi and Thai officials then told her she would be returned to Kuwait on Monday, where her father and brother are awaiting her.

Saudi Arabia's charge d'affaires in Bangkok Abdullah al-Shuaibi denied Saudi authorities were involved in any way.

He was quoted in Saudi press saying that Alqunun was stopped by Thai authorities because she did not appear to have a return ticket, a hotel reservation or itinerary to show she was a tourist. He said the Saudi Embassy has no authority to stop anyone at the airport and that this decision rests with Thai officials.

"She was stopped by airport authorities because she violated Thai laws," he was quoted as saying in Sabq, a state-aligned Saudi news website.

"The embassy is only monitoring the situation," al-Shuaibi said.

Alqunun's plight mirrors that of other Saudi women who have tried to flee abusive or restrictive family conditions.

A Saudi activist familiar with other cases of females who've runaway said often the women are young, inexperienced and unprepared for the obstacles and risks involved in seeking asylum when they attempt to flee.

Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussion, the activist said there have been instances where Saudi women runaways were stopped by authorities in Hong Kong or the Philippines en route to Australia or New Zealand. In some cases, Saudi authorities have been involved in forcing women to return to their families and in other cases local authorities suspect the women of seeking asylum and deport them.

Alqunun appears to have attempted to flee while on a family visit to Kuwait.

Saudi Arabia requires that a woman have the consent of a male relative — usually a father or husband — to obtain a passport, travel abroad or marry.

Saudi women runaways, however, have increasingly turned to social media to amplify their calls for help.

In 2017, Dina Lasloom triggered a firestorm online when she was stopped en-route to Australia where she planned to seek asylum. She was forced to return to Saudi Arabia and was not publicly heard from again, according to activists tracking her whereabouts.


PM calls on southern villagers to remain in shelters for another day

NNT

Bangkok - Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha called on southern villagers affected by Pabuk to remain in shelters for another day on Sunday until the authorities declared it safe for them to return home.

Although the tropical storm has already moved to the Andaman sea, heavy downpours and strong winds lashed many areas over the weekend, raising the possibility of flash floods.

Government Spokesman Puttipong Punnakanta said the Prime Minister reiterated that the public should not be reckless and suggested that they wait for another day until there is an announcement of safety and they should remain in the shelters until the situation returns to normal.

Provincial authorities have been told to ensure the public’s safety, the spokesman said.


Thailand visa online to be launched in Beijing next month

NNT

Chinese tourists in Beijing may apply for Thailand visas online starting February 15, 2019.

The e-visa system which is jointly launched by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in cooperation with Kasikorn Bank will facilitate visa application for Chinese tourists, and will ease the crowdedness at Thai consular offices where Chinese tourists normally visit to apply for visas.

The system will link up with the database of security agencies, which is in line with the security standards set by the ICAO.

After Beijing, the online visa service will be extended to other cities in China which was chosen as the first country for the launch of the e-visa system because Chinese tourists represent 85 percent of all visa applicants at Thai consular offices globally.


Culture Min holding 4th Bangkok Art Festival

NNT

Bangkok - The Ministry of Culture is hosting the 4th Bangkok Art Festival featuring contemporary art pieces from all over the kingdom. 

Culture Minister Vira Rojpojchanarat chaired the inauguration of the event on Saturday, the fourth of its kind. Co-hosted by the Ministry of Culture and Chulalongkorn University, the festival is being held at Siam Square in central Bangkok, with the aim of cultivating a love of the arts among Thai citizens especially children and youth, in line with the government’s Thailand 4.0 policy to build a creative society, giving young artists a platform to showcase their art works.

Culture Minister Vira said the third Bangkok Art Festival was a great success and that his ministry is keen to give children opportunities to present their artistic abilities and creativity in contemporary arts, hoping that the festival will be a start for the young generation to pursue a career in the arts. Outstanding and award-winning pieces will be displayed at international events, added the minister.


DAILY UPDATE

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Heavy smog, worsened by weather, raises alarm across Asia

Political poll gauges reactions to possible change of election date

Royally bestowed items delivered to Pabuk victims

Social Development Min oversees projects in Mae Hong Son


PM visits Bangkok communities

Australia praises Thai move on Saudi, concerned about player

Gunmen kill 4 volunteers guarding southern Thailand school

Natural Resources Min improving watermanagement


Saudi woman seeking asylum can stay temporarily in Thailand

Tourism restarting in south after passing of Pabuk

Air pollution again a cause for concern in Bangkok

SME D Bank offering low-interest loans to storm-hit businesses


Saudi woman runaway held in Thailand while fleeing family

PM calls on southern villagers to remain in shelters for another day

Thailand visa online to be launched in Beijing next month

Culture Min holding 4th Bangkok Art Festival