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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Bangkok burns after protest leaders arrested

Officials step up security at Pattaya City Hall

Area officials developing sustainable tourism master plan

Bang Saray to train pig farmers, fishermen how to turn waste into energy

Study to tackle Pattaya slum project to be complete by October

No city-wide water shortage, mayor reassures Pattaya City Council

Pattaya Beach suffering rat infestation problem

Sri Lankans given lesson in running tourism city from top Pattaya officials

Downpour causes flooding, home damage in Sattahip

City council approves 2.8 million baht for new storm drainage

Red shirt protests hit Chonburi with Laem Chabang Port blockade

Traffic snarled after NGV tank-carrying truck overturns

Heartbroken ex-husband commits suicide

Police believe headless man in Samae San Bay murdered

7 nations launch annual CARAT naval exercise in Sattahip

11 donate 1.1 million baht toward Chonburi pillar shrine

Factory worker tops in crocodile-egg eating contest


Bangkok burns after protest leaders arrested

UDD leaders surrender, arsonists take over

Thai soldiers leap over an anti-government barricade during a military crackdown Wednesday, May 19 in Bangkok. Seven leaders of Thailand’s red shirt protesters surrendered to authorities after a deadly army assault on their fortified encampment. (AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn)

Denis D. Gray

Bangkok (AP) - Downtown Bangkok turned into a flaming battleground Wednesday as an army assault toppled the red shirt protest leadership, enraging followers who fired grenades and set numerous fires that cloaked the skyline in a black haze.

Using live ammunition, troops dispersed thousands of anti-government protesters who had been camped in the capital’s premier shopping and residential district for weeks. Four protesters and an Italian news photographer were killed in the ensuing gun battles and about 60 wounded.

After red shirt leaders gave themselves up to police, rioters set fires at the Stock Exchange, several banks, the headquarters of the Metropolitan Electricity Authority, the high-end Central World shopping mall and a cinema complex that collapsed. Thick smoke drifted across the sky of this city of 10 million people.

The government declared a nighttime curfew in Bangkok, and said army operations would continue through the night. An announcement signed by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and broadcast on television said nobody in the capital was allowed out of their homes from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m. Wednesday unless they had permission from authorities.

Protesters also turned their rage on the local media, which they have accused of pro-government coverage. They attacked the offices of state-run Channel 3, setting fire to cars outside and puncturing water pipes that flooded the building.

“At Channel 3 need urgent help from police, soldiers!!!” tweeted news anchor Patcharasri Benjamasa. “News cars were smashed and they are about to invade the building.”

Hours later its building was on fire. Its executives were evacuated by helicopter. Other staff escaped on foot.

The English-language Bangkok Post newspaper evacuated its staff after threats from the red shirts. A large office building down the street from the Post was set afire.

Unrest also spread to the rural northeast of the country, where red shirts, who claim Abhisit’s government is elitist and oblivious to their plight, retain strong support.

Local media reported protesters set fire to government offices in the city of Udon Thani and vandalized a city hall in Khon Kaen. Udon Thani’s governor asked the military to intervene. TV images also showed troops retreating after being attacked by mobs in Ubon Ratchathani.

The chaotic end to the red shirt gathering in Bangkok is certain to deal a heavy blow to the economy and tourism industry of Thailand, long considered one of the more stable countries in Southeast Asia. The red shirts are demanding the ouster of Abhisit’s government, the dissolution of Parliament and new elections.

Cabinet minister Satit Vongnongteay described the chaos as anticipated “aftershocks.”

“There are violent-prone protesters who remain angry,” Satit told a news conference.

At least 44 people have been killed, most of them civilians, in a week of violence in Bangkok as a military attempt to blockade the protesters - who had camped in the 1-square-mile (3-square-kilometer) Ratchaprasong district for six weeks - instead touched off street fighting, with soldiers firing on protesters who fought back mostly with homemade weapons.

The final crackdown began soon after dawn Wednesday, as hundreds of troops armed with M-16s converged on the red shirt base in Ratchaprasong, where high-end malls and hotels have been shuttered by the prolonged protest.

Armored vehicles crashed through barricades of piled tires and bamboo stakes, then soldiers gradually moved toward the protesters’ hub, opening fire and drawing return fire from militant red shirts, Associated Press journalists saw.

Bullets flew overhead and several grenades exploded near the soldiers, forcing them to pull back and take cover briefly before pushing forward. A Canadian freelance reporter was injured by grenade shrapnel. Two other journalists were wounded earlier, one Dutch man and an American documentary filmmaker. An Italian photographer was killed.

With no hope of resisting the military’s advance, seven top red shirt leaders turned themselves in on Wednesday afternoon, saying they cannot see their supporters - women and children among them - being killed anymore.

“Brothers and sisters, I’m sorry I cannot see you off the way I welcomed you all when you arrived here. But please be assured that our hearts will always be with you,” Nattawut Saikua, a key leader, said as he was being arrested.

“Please return home,” he said.

By mid-afternoon, the army announced it had gained control of the protest zone and the operations had ended - nine hours after troops launched the pre-dawn assault.

“Police officers and soldiers have now stopped their operation,” army spokesman Col. Sansern Kawekamnerd said.

But the red shirt leaders’ decision to surrender - over two months after they began their protest in the Thai capital - clearly enraged some followers. Rioting spread quickly to other previously unaffected areas of Bangkok - prompting the government declaration of a curfew for at least one night - and to cities in the northeast of the country.

Associated Press writers Thanyarat Doksone, Jocelyn Gecker, Vijay Joshi, Eric Talmadge and Chris Blake contributed to this report.

Officials step up security at Pattaya City Hall

Chatchanan Boonnak

With bloody street warfare raging in Bangkok, officials are stepping up security at Pattaya City Hall to better control the opposing political groups that have staged periodic rallies there.

Pattaya City Council member Sanit Boonmachai asks the mayor about security at the Pattaya City Hall.

At a May 12 meeting, City Council member Sanit Boonmachai noted that the pro- and anti-government groups had improperly used an area in front of city hall to assemble and worried that future rallies could damage the city’s property and image. To date, the rallies have not been properly controlled, he said, asking for more security measures to be imposed.

Mayor Itthiphol Kunplome said the city wants to allow groups of all colors to exercise their right to assemble, but insisted that they do so quietly and peacefully. To ensure that, city security guards will now work with Pattaya Police officers and additional private security has been hired to control parking and city property. Additional CCTV cameras will also be installed, he said.

In case of a conflict between opposing groups, Itthiphol added, the city Crowd Control Division will work with Chonburi Provincial Police to restore peace and control traffic.

Area officials developing sustainable tourism master plan

Private business leaders, led by Mayor Itthiphol Kunplome (center)
are meeting to devise a master plan for sustainable tourism.

Patcharapol Panrak

Officials are putting the finishing touches on a master plan to develop part of the greater Pattaya area into a sustainable-tourism zone.

Mayor Itthiphol Kunplome led a meeting of representatives from the Pattaya Local Administrative Organization, which is comprised of the city and its nine sub-districts. The goal was to sort through data and determine the best place to develop the zone, which will see improvements to enhance environmental and cultural facilities.

The master plan, once finished, will focus on economic stability, “green” initiatives to improve the environment, tourist infrastructure and public safety.

In focusing on “sustainable tourism,” area officials are acknowledging that runaway development and Pattaya’s all-out drive to generate tourist business cannot continue without irreversible damage to the environment and, eventually, the demise of the very tourist base it strives to build.

The sustainable tourism zone will see upgrades to landscaping and aesthetics to stay in better balance with nature. The needs of the community will be addressed through “green innovations” such as rest areas along the beach, more open areas and places for the public to express their creativity, Itthiphol said.

Currently there are about 140 projects being worked on separately by Pattaya and officials from the nine sub-districts. The master plan aims to consolidate management of all of them and prioritize which ones will be best for the public and the environment.

Bang Saray to train pig farmers, fishermen how to turn waste into energy

Farmers and fishermen listen intently
to the presentation on how to turn waste into energy.

Patcharapol Panrak

Public officials and academics will educate and train Bang Saray’s many fishermen and pig farmers how to turn polluted water and pig manure into biogas that both can serve as an energy source and preserve the environment.

Sattahip District Chief Chaichan Iamcharoen launched a biogas-production training program May 10 at the Bang Saray Municipal Office with representatives from Burapha University, the Na Jomtien Learning Community Center, and Science and Technology Volunteers.

Burapha Assistant Professor Chantana Chanwong, head of the university’s Office of Academic Services, noted that a recent survey showed that nearly 60 percent of Bang Saray’s population are either fishermen or pig farmers who produce more than 1,000 metric tons of waste each year. Using anaerobic digesting equipment, the manure and water from boiling fish can be reprocessed into usable methane-based biogas and clean water.

Burapha will demonstrate the technology for area residents while science volunteers will provide training.

Chaichan said such education can not only directly benefit the population through a cleaner environment and lower energy expenses, but also lead to increased productivity and even new careers.

Livestock manure reprocessing is already used in Thailand and throughout the developing world as an alternative means of energy production. Fecal matter is treated with microorganisms that break down biodegradable material.

It’s often used to treat wastewater, such as that produced by the fishermen. The byproduct of the process is gas rich in methane and carbon dioxide that can be further scrubbed to reuse as a fuel source. The solid material leftover can also be used as fertilizer.

The technical expertise required to maintain industrial-scale anaerobic digesters coupled with high capital costs and low process efficiencies, however, have limited its application as a waste treatment technology.

Study to tackle Pattaya slum project to be complete by October

Vimolrat Singnikorn

Pattaya officials expect to have a new residential-development plan that addresses the city’s growing problem of sprawl and sub-standard housing by October.

Lecturer Panita Sa-Nguansap, a city planning researcher from Rajamangala Thanyaburi Technology University, discusses the ongoing residential development plan.

Mayor Itthiphol Kunplome met May 6 at Pattaya City Hall with Rajamangala Thanyaburi Technology University lecturer Panita Sa-Nguansap, a city-planning researcher, and staff of the of the national Housing Authority to discuss the ongoing “Residential Development Plan for Solving the Slum Problem.”

Panita noted the project comes out of the long-standing national goal to create sustainable cities in the central and eastern regions of the country. This month’s meeting was the second by city planners. The first followed a survey of the area which found that while Pattaya has grown its economy and tourist base, it still has many sub-standard housing areas and homeless people.

Among the problems that need to be tackled are residential sprawl, lack of zoning, and makeshift homes. Issues with the homeless and unlicensed street vendors also need to be addressed, she said.

Itthiphol said he looked forward to completion of the study by October, which will give Pattaya a solid development plan to build on.

No city-wide water shortage, mayor reassures Pattaya City Council

Vimolrat Singnikorn

The more than 50 percent drop in the Mabprachan Reservoir and sporadic complaints from eastern Pattaya residents again has some Pattaya City Council members worried about water shortages.

Mayor Itthiphol Kunplome ensures city counselors that there will be no water shortage during this dry season.

At a May 12 meeting, city counselor Farooq Wongborisuthi quizzed Mayor Itthiphol Kunplome about his concerns over water supplies during the hot summer months. He said he had been fielding questions about people who’ve seen Mabprachan levels fall to very low levels.

Itthiphol said the city realizes it always has problems during the dry season with maintaining water supplies to higher-elevation areas east of Third Road and in Naklua, Pratamnak Hill and Roilang. However, he said, there is no systemic shortage of water for the area.

Mabprachan is far from the region’s only source of water. The city gets water from the Mabprachan, Banglamung, Saknok and Nong Klangdong reservoirs, which have a combined capacity of 6 billion cu. meters. The city also purchases water from the Eastern Water Management and Development Co. Ltd. to supplement the reservoirs.

Nonetheless, Itthiphol said the city Engineering and Public Health and the Environment departments meet with the Provincial Water Authority and East Water to discuss the current situation.

He also encouraged anyone experiencing problems to call the city call center at 1337, which will dispatch a water truck.

Pattaya Beach suffering rat infestation problem

Thanachot Anuwan

Discarded food from tourists and dirty dishes left behind by beach chair vendors are feeding a rat-infestation problem on Pattaya Beach.

Locals are urging Pattaya City Hall to cure its rat problem before it gets further out of hand.

Residents and tourists alike are complaining that after dark large rats are crawling out of trees and taking over the sand, dining on food thrown into tree planters and tubs of unwashed plates left behind by vendors. They’re gnawing on beach chair mattresses and defecating everywhere, prompting fears that disease may affect daytime beach visitors.

It’s not a new problem. The rats seen after dark are large, old and have been around for a while. Locals are urging Pattaya City Hall to cure its rat problem before it gets further out of hand.

Sri Lankans given lesson in running tourism city from top Pattaya officials

Pattaya Mayor Itthiphol Kunplome and City Council President Tavich Chaiswangwong present information on sustainable tourism to officials from Sri Lanka’s Northwestern Province.

Vimolrat Singnikorn

Officials from Sri Lanka’s Northwestern Province received advice on how to develop a tourism-driven city from Pattaya Mayor Itthiphol Kunplome and City Council President Tavich Chaiswangwong during their official visit to the city May 10-13.

Northwest Province Chief Minister Athula Wijesinghe heard a presentation on general management of the city, including municipal administration, tourism, wastewater treatment facilities, garbage disposal and traffic.

The Sri Lankans are interested in stimulating tourism in their area and looked to Pattaya, which has decades of experience as a tourist destination.

Itthiphol said another of his goals is to protect residents and visitors from natural disasters, such as the 1994 tsunami that devastated parts of both Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Downpour causes flooding, home damage in Sattahip

Houses and businesses in Sattahip were flooded
during a two-hour downpour May 12.

Patcharapol Panrak

A two-hour downpour May 12 caused heavy flooding, damaged homes and snarled traffic throughout Sattahip.

The first big storm of the rainy season caught many residents by surprise as torrential rain caused road flooding up to a meter deep and flowed into houses.

Cars stalled and motorbikes drove over the median around the 700 Rai Market in Sattahip where small streets took on as much as 1.5 m. of water.

Behind Thongthip Market in Bantaothan more deep water damaged 20 homes. Power was knocked out, and people needed to scramble to protect their belongings.

City council approves 2.8 million baht for new storm drainage

Pattaya City Council has agreed to boost flood relief efforts along Second Road.

Phasakorn Channgam

The Pattaya City Council has approved nearly 2.8 million baht to construct a new storm-drainage canal along Second Road.

At a May 12 meeting, Deputy Mayor Wutisak Rermkitkarn urged the council to approve the 2.78 million in funds to supplement an existing 3.1 million baht budget that was insufficient to finish the reinforced concrete channel and connecting cesspools. The system would connect parts of Second Road where flooding has been endemic to the drainage pipe at Soi 10.

The council approved the request unanimously and it’s hoped work will be complete before the worst of the rainy season sets in this year.

Red shirt protests hit Chonburi with Laem Chabang Port blockade

Members of the UDD block roads in Laem Chabang Monday, May 17.

Pattaya Mail team

Bangkok’s anti-government protests spilled into Chonburi this week with a group of red-shirted demonstrators blocking access to Laem Chabang Port and obstructing traffic on Sukhumvit Road.

About 300 red shirts organized by Puea Thai Party member and head of Laem Chabang’s community radio station Nitchanant Wangkahad used tires to block access to Thailand’s main seaport May 16 and 17. Traffic from Pattaya and Bangkok backed up for kilometers as the Laem Chabang Bridge was partially closed to traffic.

Nitchanant rejected calls from Chonburi Provincial Police Commander Maj. Gen. Thanet Pinmuangnam to disperse, claiming she would lead the red shirts there for days. The group maintained up to 10 “red guards” to protect the barricade.

Chonburi Gov. Senee Jittakasem ordered police to clear the demonstration now deemed illegal under the State of Emergency decree imposed on the province May 13. He also said the so-called “people’s radio” station may be closed down if it is determined it was inciting unrest.

Laem Chabang Transport Operator Association Chairman Sangob Kingthong complained that the closure of the port would not only cause financial hardship for themselves and the country, but damage Thailand’s image in the international trade community. Truckers said they personally would have to reimburse freight owners if products were delivered late.

To date, the two-month red shirt protest that has claimed more than 67 lives has yet to affect Thailand’s vital exports, which account for nearly 70 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. They also haven’t much impacted the baht, which remains strong. That could all change, however, if the port were blocked for an extended time. By Tuesday afternoon, however, the red shirts had cleared out of the area and all was calm. Locals expressed hope it remains that way.

Traffic snarled after NGV tank-carrying truck overturns

Thanachot Anuwan

Traffic backed up for kilometers after a truck carrying liquefied natural gas containers overturned on Highway 36.

Police, Pattaya Disaster Relief officers and two fire engines responded to the May 11 accident. Fearing the tanks used for natural gas vehicles could explode, authorities shut down the roadway until the accident could be cleared.

Driver Santi Kiatwong, 47, said he was headed to Laem Chabang Port from the Maptaput Industrial Estate in Rayong when an Isuzu pickup cut him off. With the road slick from rain, he lost control of the vehicle and it overturned and slid for about 10 meters.

No one was injured in the accident and while one tank was leaking, none exploded.

Heartbroken ex-husband commits suicide

Boonlua Chatree

A heartbroken restroom attendant apparently killed himself after threatening to kill his recently divorced wife with the same gun.

Police and medics were called to the Parsopsuk Apartments near the railway in Nongprue May 13 where they found the body of 27-year-old Isarin Korkaew. He was lying fully dressed on his bed with a single gunshot to the head. The room was in disarray with the bed pushed up against the door.

The Surin native had a .32 caliber pistol in his hand and on the bed were divorce papers ending his marriage with 24-year-old Oranit Kambang, who had another apartment in the same building.

Oranit, a waitress in a North Pattaya pub, said she’d been living with Isarin, who worked at a South Pattaya bar, for some time. But the man was a jealous drunk who she often got into arguments with, she said. So they separated two months ago.

On this day, Oranit said her ex-husband had come to her room demanding she come back to his apartment. She refused to open the door, claiming Isarin had threatened to kill her if she didn’t return. But she relented when Isarin fired several shots outside her door.

Oranit said she gave Isarin the divorce paper and managed to escape while he was distracted. Apartment owner Sanit Nimad said she called police after hearing gunshots and that officers arrived to find him in his apartment with the gun. They tried to persuade him to drop the pistol, but instead he slammed shut the door.

After another single shot, they found him dead.

Police believe headless man in Samae San Bay murdered

Patcharapol Panrak

Police believe a man whose headless body was found floating in Samae San Bay was most likely murdered.

Police recovered the corpse dressed in what appeared to be military attire with a Royal Air Force belt May 13 near the Natural History Museum of the Thai Islands and Sea at Khao Major. About 30-35 years old, the man had been dead and in the sea for about a week. His body was sent to Sattahip Km 10 Hospital for an autopsy.

7 nations launch annual CARAT naval exercise in Sattahip

Rear Adm. Chaiyot Sunthonnak, commander of the Royal Thai Navy’s Frigate Squadron 2, and Rear Adm. Nora W. Tyson, commander of the U.S. Logistics Group for the Western Pacific preside over the start of CARAT 2010 in Thailand May 14.

Patcharapol Panrak

Naval forces from seven countries kicked off the annual Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training exercise in Sattahip May 14, focusing on sea operations, not political unrest in Bangkok.

Rear Adm. Chaiyot Sunthonnak, commander of the Royal Thai Navy’s Frigate Squadron 2, and Rear Adm. Nora W. Tyson, commander of the U.S. Logistics Group for the Western Pacific, had to fend off questions about whether the American forces would join in putting down the bloody riots by red-shirted anti-government demonstrators. Assuring reporters that the many rumors they were chasing down were just that, Chaiyot insisted the war games would stick to the scheduled laid out months ago.

CARAT this year saw Thailand and the U.S. joined by navies from Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore. Based out of Royal Thai Marine Corps headquarters at Prince Chumporn Camp in Toeuyngam Bay, the exercise, now in its 16th year, covered air defense, suppression of submarines mine warfare, defensive weapons firing, amphibious attack, psychological operations and other tactics.

11 donate 1.1 million baht toward Chonburi pillar shrine

Benevolent residents of Chonburi gathered in Governor Senee Jittakasem’s office to donate funds for a city pillar shrine.

Vimolrat Singnikorn

A former governor, area business people and wealthy residents, 11 in all, donated 100,000 baht each to kick off fund-raising for a planned city pillar shrine for the city of Chonburi.

Gov. Senee Jittakasem welcomed former governor Chaijit Ratkhajorn and his wife Kornkanok, along with the other contributors to his Chonburi office May 11 to accept the donations for the pillar, which is believed will bring good luck to the city.

While Chonburi was founded in 1933, it has never had a pillar shrine similar to those in other cities. City officials proposed the pillar in 2006 with the goal of having it completed in time for HM the King’s birthday in December 2011.

Donations are still being taken for the project. The first 1.1 million baht was contributed by the former governor and his wife; Kamol Athirakul of Chonburi Pongsak Co. Ltd. and Sukamol Co.; Wiwat Pattanasin of Banglamung District, Him Jiratpikanpong of Kit Rung Ruang Starch Co.; Sunthorn Kijdaorung of Chonburi, Jira Sa-Ngiampornpanit of Chonburi Stainless Steel Industry Co., Ltd.; Vichit Supornsahatrangsri of Banglamung District; San Supornsahatrangsi of Banglamung District; Charoen-Saiporn Jureekanon of Sriracha District; Ammart Sopanarom of Vorakit Montree Co. Ltd.; and Narong Anantakhun of Khun A-nan Co.

Anyone interested in donating to the project can do so via Krung Thai Bank’s Chonburi Branch, account #207-029118-9. The account name is “Chonburi City Pillar Shrine.”

Factory worker tops in crocodile-egg eating contest

Payab Pansaengthong (right) eats the fastest on his way
 to becoming champion of the 8th Crocodile Eggs Eating contest.

Phasakorn Channgam

A 39-year-old factory worker bested a field of 28 people in quickly devouring 10 crocodile eggs at the Million Years Stone Park Crocodile Farm’s annual egg-eating contest.

Payab Pansaengthong of Banbung, Chonburi, who makes vehicle parts for a living, took home 10,000 baht and a certificate for winning the farm’s eighth-annual competition. Security guard Preedee Singhachan, 37, won 5,000 baht for second place. Former croc-egg eating champ Udom Butngam, 43, came in third, winning 3,000 baht.

The May 1 competition was sponsored by the tourist attraction and the Chonburi Cultural Council and, as always, brought out a crowd of Thai and foreign tourists. Contestants were judged on how fast they could shell and down 10 boiled crocodile eggs.

Baywatch: Drainage pipe becomes eyesore

Phasakorn Channgam

Pratamnak residents complained to Pattaya officials about the laying of a drainage pipe on Ban U-thong Beach and Soi Pratamnak 6. The drains are not covered and are taking away from the beach scenery.

Residents also are afraid that it may endanger tourists and locals swimming in the area.

They urge city workers to finish their job quickly and restore beauty and safety to the area.