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Update January 2019

Thailand News
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Update by Natrakorn Paewsoongnern
Thailand News

Bangkok schools closed over air pollution concerns

A young boy wears a protective mask for the high levels of air pollution as he's picked up from school in Bangkok, Wednesday, Jan. 30. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Kaweewit Kaewjinda

Bangkok (AP) — More than 400 schools in Thailand's capital, Bangkok, were shut for the rest of the week Wednesday due to increasing concern over dangerously unhealthy air pollution.

Faced with public discontent as well as a possible health crisis, Police Gen. Asawin Kwanmuang, the city's governor, also declared the city a "pollution control zone," allowing authorities to take legal measures to combat the threat, including road closings and diversions. Violators of orders to curb pollution, which could include limits on diesel exhaust, outdoor burning and construction activities, could face up to three months in prison.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha directed Asawin to order the closure of 437 schools after officials said the pollution would continue until next Monday. They said still air and heavy traffic are causing a buildup of particles in the air.

The Pollution Control Department said the amount of especially dangerous tiny "PM 2.5" particles has risen in all areas in and around Bangkok since Monday.

"We decided to eliminate the problem by closing down the schools," Asawin said. "We're afraid that it can be dangerous for the children." Technical colleges are included among the closed institutions but universities are still considering what to do.

Mongkolsak Lajina, the father of a 5-year-old student, suggested that closing schools was a token gesture.

"I don't think it will help much. It helps that students do not have to commute to schools," he said. "But we need better measures to effectively deal with this problem."

The Public Health Ministry said people should refrain from outdoor activities and exercise, and look instead for indoor venues. Many commuters and pedestrians have begun wearing face masks.

"These measures will help only temporarily," said Aek Pongpairoj, a doctor living in Bangkok. "If we want a long-lasting solution, all sectors must be involved, not just government agencies; for example, the private sector involving construction. There are so many construction sites and I can see that preventive measures aren't enough."

Pollution levels also rose elsewhere in Thailand, bringing a heavy haze to Chiang Mai and other northern areas well ahead of the annual "smoky season" that normally begins in late February, when farmers burn agricultural waste and dry weather allows airborne particles to accumulate.

Efforts to reduce the pollution level in Bangkok by hosing down roads and spraying water in the air have been criticized as ineffective. People were asked to limit open-air burning of materials, and have even been advised to use shorter incense sticks in upcoming Lunar New Year celebrations.

Prayuth gets party nod as possible PM candidate

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Bangkok (AP) —The Palang Pracharat party said Wednesday its executive board will designate Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, along with party leader Uttama Savanayana and Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, as its three candidates, as required under rules for the March 24 general election.

Prayuth has not clarified if he intends to run. He could still become an "outsider prime minister" under the country's latest constitution, which doesn't require that the prime minister be a member of Parliament.

When Palang Pracharat was established last year, it was seen as a proxy for the military government. It adopted the old style of politics that reforms were supposed to remove, with big-money backers and alliances with political party bosses around the country who could deliver votes directly or when the time comes to form a new government coalition.

With advantages similar to those held by an incumbent political party, Palang Pracharat is widely tipped to finish first or second in the election.

An elaborate electoral system that includes disproportionate power for an unelected Senate in naming a new prime minister heavily favors the Palang Pracharat, even as the Pheu Thai party affiliated with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is expected to retain much of its old popularity.

Suvarnabhumi Airport unveils ‘Thailand E-Visa On Arrival’


Samut Prakan - Suvarnabhumi International Airport launched a “Thailand E-Visa On Arrival” campaign on Tuesday, to boost tourism during the Spring Festival.

Suvarnabhumi Airport, in cooperation with Airports of Thailand (AOT) and the Immigration Bureau, held a ceremony to introduce its latest online service to streamline immigration procedures. The opening ceremony was chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan.

Under the campaign, citizens of 20 countries are entitled to a visa-on-arrival fee waiver, which can be applied for online. The Thai government’s latest move is intended to stimulate and promote tourism, as well as enhance Thailand’s attractiveness among foreign visitors during the high travel season, as Chinese New Year approaches.

The 20 countries eligible for the waiver include Andora, Bulgaria, Bhutan, China including Taiwan, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Fiji, India, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Papua New Guinea, Romania, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Citizens of these countries will be exempted from the 2,000-baht visa-on-arrival fee.

Tourists from any of the 20 countries flying Thai Airways can apply for an e-visa on arrival 24 hours a day.

Australian PM asks Thailand to free detained soccer player

In this Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, file photo, prison guards escort Bahraini football player Hakeem al-Araibi from a court in Bangkok. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Kaweewit Kaewjinda and Tassanee Vejp

Bangkok (AP) — Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has urged Thailand to stop the extradition to Bahrain of a detained soccer player who has refugee status in Australia, his office said Tuesday.

In a letter to Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, Morrison emphasized that Hakeem al-Araibi's case was an important matter to him personally, as well as to the Australian government and Australian people, his office said. The letter was reported earlier by The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.

Al-Araibi, 25, a former Bahraini national team player, says he fled his home country due to political repression. Bahrain wants him returned to serve a 10-year prison sentence he received in absentia in 2014 for vandalizing a police station, which he denies.

Human rights groups, soccer governing bodies and activists have pushed for Thailand to release al-Araibi, who plays for the semi-professional soccer club Pascoe Vale FC in Melbourne. They believe he risks being tortured if he is sent back to Bahrain.

Morrison noted that al-Araibi has a permanent protection visa issued by Australia, that the government only issues such visas after a careful process, and that Australia considers him a refugee.

Thai foreign ministry spokeswoman Busadee Santipitaks said Tuesday that the official extradition request was received from Bahrain and forwarded to Thai prosecutors.

Thailand's attorney general's office received the extradition request Monday and is expected to decide within a week whether to proceed with the extradition case, said Chatchom Akapin, director general of the international affairs department.

Chatchom said Thailand would not extradite al-Araibi "if the sought after extradition is political."

"If it is, then the request must be denied," he said.

Prime Minister Prayuth said the situation was complicated.

"Thai officials have to follow the law in every aspect. However, Thailand has good relations with Bahrain and FIFA," he said, referring to soccer's world governing body. "How can we find a solution? I understand everyone's concerns."

Human Rights Watch's Asia director, Brad Adams, said Thailand would make a "huge mistake" if it extradites al-Araibi because "global opinion and international law are clearly opposed to this rights-violating move."

The Asian Football Confederation on Tuesday followed FIFA and the International Olympic Committee in asking for al-Araibi's release.

The AFC, led by Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, a member of Bahrain's royal family, had faced criticism for not calling for al-Araibi's freedom.

Thai girl group in hot water over singer's swastika shirt


In this June 2, 2017, file photo, Thai pop band BNK 48 performs for the first time in Bangkok. (The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images)

Bangkok (AP) — A popular Thai music act has apologized amid a scandal set off when one of its members wore a shirt showing the swastika flag of Nazi Germany during a performance.

The incident involving the girl group BNK48 occurred just two days ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marked Sunday with somber ceremonies in other parts of the world to remember the 6 million Jews and others killed in Adolf Hitler's notorious death camps.

Israel's embassy in Thailand posted a statement on Twitter expressing "shock and dismay over the Nazi outfit worn by the singer."

"Presenting Nazi symbols by the band's singer, hurt the feelings of millions around the world, whose relatives were murdered by the Nazis," it said.

The performer, 19-year-old Pichayapa 'Namsai' Natha, blamed her own ignorance for her actions as she delivered a tearful apology and asked for forgiveness. In the video apology made on the stage where the group usually performs, she dropped to her knees as she finished her brief statement and was comforted by fellow band members. Her apology was also posted on her Instagram account.

Management of the group, noted more for its marketing prowess than its musical abilities, also apologized that they had "inadvertently caused dismay and distress to people affected" by the historical crime against humanity.

Incidents involving insensitive use of Nazi symbols occur from time to time in Thailand, where there is little awareness of the Holocaust and an inclination to use them as design elements or comic props.

Past scandals have involved bars, restaurants, motels and clothing using swastikas and images of Hitler for decorative purposes. But on several occasions students at schools and colleges have mimicked Nazi regalia and rituals, including the infamous 'Heil, Hitler' salute, in skits, artworks and ceremonies.

Thais are not alone among the peoples of Asia with little knowledge or sensitivity about the Holocaust. In what may be a mark of disinterest in history among the younger generation, several other youth-oriented music groups have been involved in similar scandals.

Late last year, management for the South Korean hit K-pop boy band BTS had to apologize for one of its members wearing a T-shirt depicting the explosion of an atomic bomb and another a hat with a Nazi emblem in a magazine photo book, Band members previously flew flags with what appeared to be the Nazi swastika during a concert.

In 2016, the producer for a Japanese all-girl "idol" group like BNK48 joined Sony Music in apologizing after the popular act performed in outfits resembling Nazi-era German military uniforms.

Keyakizaka46, a group of about 20 mostly teenage girls who sing and dance in synch, appeared at a concert in black knee-length dresses that look like military overcoats, and black capes and officer caps with a Nazi-like eagle emblem.

DPM Prawit orders traffic police to solve jams in central Bangkok


Bangkok - Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan asked the Royal Thai Police to mitigate traffic congestions during rush hours across Bangkok in a bid to reduce air pollution caused by the burning of fuel.

Pol Lt Gen Kongcheep Tantravanich, spokesperson of the Defense Ministry, said the Thai Armed Forces would continue supporting the air pollution control effort to bring down the amount of hazardous dust particles lurking in the greater Bangkok area and surrounding provinces. Since mid-January, the military has been working with the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to clean streets, spray water in affected areas, and carry out cloudseeding operations.

Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan has asked the Royal Thai Police to find ways to ease traffic jams on Bangkok streets during rush hours in order to reduce carbon emissions while instructing the military to study dust solutions of other countries.

The military is in the process of developing mist spraying machines to be installed on high-rise buildings and testing unmanned aircrafts that can support the pollution control operation.

IOC backs FIFA's calls for Bahraini player to be released

Former Australian soccer national team member Craig Foster talks to journalists at The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand after meeting detained refugee Hakeem al-Araibi in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, Jan. 25. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Bangkok (AP) - The International Olympic Committee has backed FIFA's calls for a Bahraini soccer player to be allowed to return to Australia from Thailand where he is detention while being pursued for extradition by Bahrain.

But Asian soccer's leadership is declining to publicly back the campaign to secure the release of Hakeem al-Araibi, who has refugee status in Australia.

The IOC said its president, Thomas Bach, "has personally discussed this worrying situation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees."

FIFA asked the Thai government earlier last week to ensure al-Araibi was released at the "earliest possible moment."

The IOC said its "full support for the FIFA actions in order to find a solution based on 'basic human and humanitarian values'" has been conveyed to the Thai government by IOC member Khunying Patama Leeswadtraku.

By contrast, the Asian Football Confederation only says it "continues to work with FIFA ... to find a solution." In emails, AFC spokesman Colin Gibson would not say what the governing body believes the solution should be, specifically declining to back calls for al-Araibi's return to Australia.

An AFC statement said Senior Vice President Praful Patel is handling the matter and not President Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa, a member of Bahrain's royal family, to prevent any "conflict of interest."

Al-Araibi has said he was tortured in Bahrain after his 2012 arrest and fled in 2014 to Australia, which granted him political asylum in 2017 and where he now plays for Melbourne's Pascoe Vale Football Club.

Bahrain wants its former national team player returned to serve a 10-year prison sentence that was handed down in absentia after he was accused of vandalizing a police station — a charge he denies.

Crude palm oil sent to Bangpakong Power Plant


Bangkok - The first batch of 2,000 tons of palm oil has been delivered to Bangpakong Power Plant in Chachoengsao province.

Following the Cabinet’s resolution to have the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) absorb the oversupply of oil palm in the domestic market, two thousand tons of crude palm oil were transported to Bangpakong Power Station for electricity generation on Saturday.

EGAT aims to buy 160,000 tons of palm oil from four southern provinces namely Surat Thani, Chumphon, Krabi, and Nakhon Si Thammarat to help raise the crop’s domestic price.

Energy Minister Siri Jirapongphan said under the palm oil support program, farmers will be able to sell their crop at a price of no less than 3 baht per kilogram.

EGAT has modified Bangpakong Thermal Power Plant Unit 3 to support the use of crude palm oil as fuel for power generation with natural gas. The electricity regulator expects the plant to use up to 30,000 tons of palm oil per month.

Thailand sets date of first general election since coup

In this Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, file photo, demonstrators hold a rally demanding the general election not be postponed in Bangkok. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Bangkok (AP) — Thailand's Election Commission on Wednesday announced that the nation's first general election since the military seized power in 2014 will be held on March 24. The decree published in the Royal Gazette put into effect election laws that were drafted by the government.

The most recent promised election date of Feb. 24 had to be abandoned because the decree giving the go-ahead was not issued as expected earlier this month, leaving not enough time to prepare for the polls.

Anti- government protesters have staged sporadic demonstrations on Bangkok's streets in recent months, demanding there be no further delays.

The government had announced earlier this month that coronation ceremonies for HM King Maha Vajiralongkorn would take place in early May, which had also fueled speculation that the poll date could be delayed.

Police says bodies from river were missing activists

In this photo dated Thursday, Dec, 27, 2018, rescuers cover a body on the shore of the Mekong River in Nakhon Phanom province. (AP Photo)

Bangkok (AP) — DNA tests show that two bodies found washed up on the shore of the Mekong River in Thailand's northeast are the corpses of political activists, police said Tuesday.

The two, known by the pseudonyms Puchana and Kasalong, were among three exiled activists who disappeared in December from homes in Laos, where they took shelter after fleeing Thailand. There is a group of Thai exiles in Laos associated with the Red Shirt movement that staged aggressive street protests in Bangkok in 2010.

Several members of a hard-core faction advocating that Thailand becomes a republic are wanted on charges of lese majeste, a serious crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison per offense.

Nakhon Phanom provincial police chief, Pol. Maj. Gen. Thanachart Rodklongton, said forensics lab results matched the bodies' DNA to samples from family members.

The bodies were found on Dec. 27 and Dec. 28 wrapped in brown sacks along with blocks of cement, presumably to weigh them down.

The real names of the two have not been made public, but the third person with whom they worked who also went missing is a well-known Red Shirt leader and long-time dissident, Surachai Danwattananusorn, better known as Surachai sae Dan. His fate is unknown. Now in his seventies, he has spent many years in prison on lese majeste and other charges since the 1970s, when he was a communist guerrilla in southern Thailand.

The three had not been seen by friends in Laos since the middle of December.

Since 2016, at least two other Thai dissidents in Laos have disappeared under suspicious circumstances.

Olympic champ among 4 Thai weightlifters to test positive


Sopita Tanasan, of Thailand, competes in the women’s 48kg weightlifting competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. (AP Photo)

Budapest, Hungary (AP) — Two world champion weightlifters and an Olympic gold medalist are among four Thai weightlifters to test positive for banned steroids, the International Weightlifting Federation announced on Tuesday.

Thunya Sukcharoen and Sukanya Srisurat risk being stripped of the world titles they won in November after each testing positive for at least one anabolic steroid and artificial testosterone. If found guilty, Srisurat faces a potential eight-year ban for a second offense.

The 2016 Olympic champion at 48 kilograms, Sopita Tanasan, also tested positive after finishing fourth at the world championships. Sixth-place finisher Chitchanok Pulsabsakul also failed a drug test.

The failed tests are another embarrassment for weightlifting, which is under pressure from the International Olympic Committee to crack down on doping. Weightlifting is on the Olympic program for next year's games in Tokyo, but only provisionally for 2024.

Burapha University to become lead provider of personnel to the EEC


Chonburi - Burapha University has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) Human Resource Development Committee to produce needed personnel for the special zone. 

Representing Burapha University, Dr. Sanoh Unakul, chaired the signing of the MOU between acting Burapha University Director Dr. Somnuek Theerakulpisut and EEC Secretary-General Dr. Kanit Saengsuphan. The university has now committed to adapting its courses to produce personnel for the EEC, which is being developed by the government to energize the Thai economy.

The institute was chosen as it is located within the EEC in Chonburi province and already provides courses relevant to the corridor’s ten targeted industries. The university features programs spanning automotive engineering, electronics and food processing.

Burapha University is to become the lead provider of human resources for the EEC and will hold training sessions alongside full courses. It will receive support from the committee.

Fisheries Dept: bright future in local fisheries


Bangkok - Thailand’s Fisheries Department expects a bright future in the local fisheries industry after the European Commission took Thailand off its group of "warned countries" in recognition of its “progress” in tackling illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

According to Director-General of Fisheries Department Dr. Adisorn Promthep, the EU’s move will significantly improve the confidence of importers. He said the recognition also reflects the Thai government’s determination to stamp out problems and create stability in the fishing sector through various means, including amending related laws and adjusting the management system of the fisheries industry. 

He clarified that the latter also replenishes maritime resources and provides opportunities to local fishermen. The director-general indicated that his department and the concerned agencies will continue to impose strict regulations to maintain the quality of the sector.

Dr. Adisorn is confident the increased maritime resources available since the enforcement of strict regulations will improve the productivity of each fishing vessel. He added that the streamlined processes of related agencies will accelerate documentation.

The Fisheries Department Director-General also mentioned the establishment of the Thai Fisheries Development Fund to oversee fishing related legal cases. The fund will also provide compensation to those affected by such legal cases. The matter will soon be proposed to the Cabinet.

Krungthai Bank forecasts 4.1% economic growth this year


Bangkok - Krungthai Bank has projected the Thai economy will grow at a rate of 4.1% this year, expressing confidence that the kingdom will see an influx of foreign capital once there is more clarification on the election date. 

Phatcharapoj Nantramas, a senior economist at Krungthai Bank, said the bank has revised its 2019 economic growth projection down from 4.3% to 4.1%. However, he expects that government and private spending will be bustling in the second half of 2019 and the country will be able to regain investor confidence once the electoral authority announces the election date.

The economist added that if the next government chooses to continue the existing economic policies, the Thai economy will be less vulnerable to global economic fluctuations and uncertainties.

He also warned of the impact of the prolonged trade war between the United States and China, but was sanguine about China’s production slump in the first quarter of 2019, a situation Phatcharapoj thinks could benefit the kingdom in the short run. Thai products and services sold to China account for 12% of the country’s exports. 

With that said, Phatcharapoj noted that 2019 will be a year full of challenges for Thai entrepreneurs who will encounter liquidity risks and emerging technologies that could potentially transform the business sector for good.

EC to endorse election results within 150-day timeframe


Bangkok - The Election Commission of Thailand (EC) has promised to endorse election results within the 150-day timeframe as stipulated in the 2017 Constitution.

EC Secretary-General Pol Col Jarungwit Phumma has reiterated that the electoral organ will conclude the general election and endorse poll results by May 9th, 2019, which is within 50 days of the organic act governing the election of members of parliament coming into force on December 11th last year. 

According to Pol Col Jarungwit, even though the election date is still unclear, Election Commissioners earlier this week agreed that the conclusion of the election stipulated in the permanent charter must include the endorsement of poll results.

There is current speculation that Thai voters will cast ballots on Sunday, March 10th based on the EC’s announcement and interpretation of the 150-day timeframe. 

He added that although the EC is responsible for determining the poll’s date, the official announcement will have to made by the administration. 

Cabinet extends welfare card measures, approves projects in upper north

Puttipong Punnakanta - acting spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office.


Chiang Mai – The Cabinet has extended the second phase of its welfare measures by another six months along with eight urgent programs in the upper northern region.

Acting Spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office Puttipong Punnakanta reports that the Cabinet meeting on economic and social development of Upper Northern Region 1 reviewed eight urgent projects, including maintenance work for Highway No. 11, expansion of the northern intersection bridge and the construction of a Truck Terminal in Chiang Mai.

The meeting also agreed to extend the second phase of measures designed to improve the lives of welfare card holders by another six months until June of this year. Card holders earning less than 30,000 baht per month will receive 200 baht per person per month while those earning more but under 100,000 baht will receive 100 baht per month. The extension will require 4.37 billion baht from the Grassroots Economy Pracharat Fund.

Monthly transfers to the welfare cards will also be changed with those entitled to 200 baht per month to receive 300 month placed in their cards each month, while those entitled to 100 baht to see 200 baht. The funds are for use in Blue Flag stores.

Military chief urges loyalty ahead of expected election

Thai army chief Gen. Apirat Kongsompong delivers a speech during the Royal Thai Armed Forces Day ceremony at a military base in Bangkok, Friday, Jan. 18. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Bangkok (AP) — Thailand's military held its annual Armed Forces Day parade on Friday as the country prepares for upcoming elections.

Army Commander in Chief Gen. Apirat Kongsompong, who presided over the ceremony, declined last October to rule out future army interventions in Thai political life, raising a storm of controversy.

But his speech to soldiers on Friday steered clear of politics, making instead routine exhortations of loyalty to the king and the country.

"We will sacrifice our physical and mental strength to protect the country and revere the king, and look after the people," he said.

With elections expected shortly, political temperatures are rising, and pro-democracy activists have been demonstrating to pressure the government not to backslide on its promise to hold polls. Several times it has set dates for elections but then found excuses for pushing them back. It recently announced that a Feb. 24 election date it set months ago will not be possible.

Apirat earlier this week warned protesters not to step over the line of acceptable dissent. There have been small but spirited protests lately in Bangkok and several other cities over the failure to keep the election schedule.

Friday's march by soldiers on a parade ground on the outskirts of Bangkok was a reminder that the army is a major force in political life here. Since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932, it has conducted 12 successful coups.

Armed Forces Day marks the anniversary of a battle 500 years ago in which King Naresuan is said to have slain a Burmese prince in a duel on elephant back.

ASEAN ministers rock no boats in Myanmar, South China Sea

Thailand Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai addresses journalists during a press conference following the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Foreign Ministers' retreat in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Friday, Jan. 18. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Chiang Mai (AP) — Foreign ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Friday hewed to the group's practice of reaching the least provocative consensus possible in discussions of such divisive issues as Myanmar's Rohingya crisis and China's territorial claims in the South China Sea.

A two-day Foreign Ministers' Retreat was the regional group's first meeting since Thailand took over its annual chairmanship.

The host's summary of the meeting emphasized the humanitarian role ASEAN members could play in Myanmar's Rakhine State, where more than 700,000 members of the Muslim Rohingya minority fled from a brutal government counterinsurgency campaign.

Standard ASEAN practice is to avoid criticizing what are considered each country's domestic affairs. But Myanmar's Rohingya crisis is also a regional problem, because of the hundreds of thousands of refugees it has generated, justifying discussion by the group.

ASEAN has plans to send a team to Rakhine, but Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai at a closing news conference said its mission had been delayed because of a stalemate on the ground.

"Once things are cleared, then you will be seeing more visibly the presence of the collective ASEAN efforts in Myanmar and Rakhine State," he said.

Don said the group suggested that Myanmar should "address the root causes of the conflict" and create "a conducive environment" so that affected communities can rebuild their lives.

Myanmar has previously acknowledged similar suggestions but done little to act on them.

ASEAN offered to act as a coordinator with U.N. agencies on the planned future repatriation of the Rohingya currently sheltering at camps in Bangladesh, Don said.

Many Rohingya are reluctant to return without more guarantees of safety and the prospect of obtaining citizenship, which is generally denied to them.

Myanmar was represented at the meeting by Minister for International Cooperation Kyaw Tin. Its foreign minister is Aung San Suu Kyi, but she is also the country's executive leader and often delegates foreign minister duties to others.

The ministers also claimed progress on concluding a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, long touted as a way of avoiding volatile confrontations in the disputed waters.

Several ASEAN countries, especially Vietnam and the Philippines, have the territorial interests directly threatened by Chinese claims in the sea, while others, either nervous about offending their giant neighbor to the north or maintaining vital economic ties with Beijing, are less concerned.

The meeting statement gave a nod to China's critics by saying the ministers "took note of some concerns on the land reclamations and activities in the area." By extending the size of reefs and islands and establishing military and civilian facilities on them, Beijing strengthens its claims to the adjacent waters.

Authorities enter Tham Luang Cave for first time since rescue of 13 footballers


Chiang Rai – Authorities inspected Tham Luang Cave in Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai on Friday, the first time since the Moo Pa Academy 13 were rescued on July 11, 2018, and indicated it will be another month until a second survey can be carried out.

A team of thirty-five entered chambers one through three of the cave complex, traveling about three kilometers. Their inspection was the first since Moo Pa Academy Football Team was rescued from the cave after being trapped due to flooding. They found that much of the cave is still covered in sediment and mud with stretches of water that would require diving to traverse. The team took about five hours to carry out the survey.

The inspection revealed hundreds of oxygen tanks, field stretchers and rope are still strewn throughout the cave, especially in Chamber Two. Other remnants of the rescue and past visitors include foil, power gel and radios from World War II. All of the items have been cataloged with another survey to take place in a month’s time when conditions improve.

Commander of the Royal Thai Navy’s Special Combat Unit, Rear Adm Apakorn Yukongkaeo , remarked that the large amount of left over rescue equipment is an indication of the determination put into rescuing the Tham Luang 13.

NLA approves new Land Traffic Act


Bangkok – Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly (NLA) has passed a draft Land Traffic Act that would revamp ticket issuing, fine payment and license confiscation.

The latest NLA meeting reviewed a Land Traffic Act submitted by the Cabinet with Minister of Transport Arkom Termpittayapaisit stating that, due to an increasing number of road accidents mostly linked to poor driving discipline, the Land Traffic Act of 1979 should be considered obsolete. Areas of improvement outlined by the minister included the issuing of tickets to driving violators.

On fine payments, the new act would allow for cashier’s checks and electronic transfers to be used alongside physical appearance by the violator at a police station. Police are to be empowered to confiscate a driver’s license if they appear unable to operate their vehicle or if they pose a danger to others or themselves as well as the authority to return licenses when it is deemed the driver is fit.

The act was approved with a vote of 157 in favor and two abstentions.

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)


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


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


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


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.


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


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


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


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


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.


HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Bangkok schools closed over air pollution concerns

Prayuth gets party nod as possible PM candidate

Suvarnabhumi Airport unveils ‘Thailand E-Visa On Arrival’

Australian PM asks Thailand to free detained soccer player

Thai girl group in hot water over singer's swastika shirt

DPM Prawit orders traffic police to solve jams in central Bangkok

IOC backs FIFA's calls for Bahraini player to be released

Crude palm oil sent to Bangpakong Power Plant

Thailand sets date of first general election since coup

Police says bodies from river were missing activists

Olympic champ among 4 Thai weightlifters to test positive

Burapha University to become lead provider of personnel to the EEC

Fisheries Dept: bright future in local fisheries

Krungthai Bank forecasts 4.1% economic growth this year

EC to endorse election results within 150-day timeframe

Cabinet extends welfare card measures, approves projects in upper north

Military chief urges loyalty ahead of expected election

ASEAN ministers rock no boats in Myanmar, South China Sea

Authorities enter Tham Luang Cave for first time since rescue of 13 footballers

NLA approves new Land Traffic Act

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