Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Retail pact sought to reduce confrontations PHUSADEE ARUNMAS

Retail pact sought to reduce confrontations PHUSADEE ARUNMAS

The Internal Trade Department wants retail and wholesale operators to sign an agreement on fair deals and contracts in a bid to reduce confrontations between local traders and giant retailers.

Yanyong Phuangrach, the department's director-general, outlined the proposal at a meeting yesterday with representatives of large retailers, wholesalers and bagged-rice suppliers. He gave them two weeks to consider the proposal.

The agreement would stipulate distances from communities for stores and their opening times. It is seen as a stop-gap until the new government considers a new retail and wholesale law.

Under the proposals, superstores, hypermarkets and discount stores must be at least 12 kilometres from a municipal area. The district served must have a total population, including tourists and visitors, of at least 100,000. The stores would be allowed to operate no more than 12 hours a day.

Supermarkets could operate at least five kilometres from a municipal area with a population of at least 50,000, and to open up to 12 hours a day.

Discount convenience stores and express outlets could open at least 500 metres from a fresh market, with a total population in the community at least 10,000. They could operate up to 15 hours a day. General convenience stores must be in communities with a population of at least 3,000 and could operate around the clock.

Slower expansion expected for 2008


Slower expansion expected for 2008


Economic growth should range from 4% to 4.5% in 2008, based on the assumption of a coalition government and a less-than-credible economic team, according to economists at Rangsit University. ''A coalition government in itself will not be a constraint on economic growth, given that the country's fundamentals are relatively strong,'' said Anusorn Tamajai, the dean of the economics faculty at Rangsit University.

''But if its stability is weak, it could affect economic growth over the next several years.''

The growth forecast falls short of the 5% projected by other economists and the government itself. Growth this year is projected at 4.5%, down from 5% in 2006.

Dr Anusorn said that political instability would result in weak private investment and slow economic growth.

Conversely, he said, a stable government would be a significant benefit for economic growth.

The People Power Party, led by Samak Sundaravej, is widely expected to form the next government after capturing 233 seats in last Sunday's election, well ahead of the 165 seats captured by the second-place Democrat Party.

PPP's economic team is led by Mingkwan Sangsuwan, a former top marketing executive of Toyota Motor Thailand and MCOT Plc.

Dr Anusorn said that Rangsit University's 4% to 4.5% growth forecast assumed Dubai oil prices averaging $80 next year, average growth of 14 major trading partners of 4% and exchange rates of 34 baht to the dollar.

The base-case projection assumes little pickup in private investment and consumption in the first quarter, with consumption for the year growing just 2%.

Relatively high debt levels averaging 104,571 baht per household would constrain consumption. Savings rates also are relatively low, with up to 80% of household revenues spent on consumption.

Investment was projected to rise just 4% in 2008, although a best-case scenario would see investment jump to 7.2%, with private investment growing 8%.

Dr Anusorn said the new government should move quickly to increase fiscal spending in 2008 to help compensate for projected declines in export growth.

Monetary policy, meanwhile, should remain stable to support growth, even as inflation is expected to rise to 4% to 5% next year, or double that of 2007.

''One of the most urgent tasks facing the new government is how to control living expenses as well as boost per-capita income,'' Dr Anusorn said.

JSL projecting 10% growth next year


JSL projecting 10% growth next year


JSL Co Ltd, Thailand's leading TV production house, projects 10% growth in billings next year, improving on lower-than-expected 7% growth this year, according to managing director Vachara Vaewuthinand.

JSL typically sets a conservative target every year so that at the end of the year it can say that it beat earlier projections. In 2007, Mr Vachara said the company's billings reached the earlier target of 972 million baht, but executives regarded that as a poor performance.

Parent company JSL billed 620 million baht and its eight subsidiaries billed another 352 million baht. Billing projections for 2008 were set at 1.08 billion baht, largely based on the hope that the country's political situation would be better after last Sunday's general election.

JSL is eager to win business from state agencies for events next year in anticipation that the next government could run the country smoothly, according to Mr Vachara.

''It does not matter which party forms the next government,'' he said.

In 2008, JSL plans to produce 12 major programmes, including two new programmes that will start broadcasting in January: a variety show called Glom Gig and music variety talk show Kuen Nee Wan Nan (Tonight That Day). Currently, all of its programmes air only on the free-to-air TV Channels 5, 7 and 9.

JSL also plans to invest in a new information technology company. The content for the new website may be something related to the creativity or the talents of web users, said Mr Vachara.

As several of JSL's TV programmes are recurring, next year, the company planned to develop other media outlets for them such as books, DVDs and even events to earn more income from them.

The first half of 2007 was the hardest time for the firm, Mr Vachara said. Its billings missed the target by 15% because sponsors were reluctant to spend on advertising. Consumers lost confidence in the country's economy, which was hit hard by political turmoil.

He said that after political problems started to be sorted out in the middle of the year, leading to the election last weekend, the company's billings picked up significantly.

''In 2007 our jobs were more difficult because advertisers had extreme demands to optimise their money,'' he said.

In addition, he said the company could cope with hard times by improving its business strategy.

For instance, the TV talk show Joh Jai linked up with the oil and gas company Chevron to produce a special programme to raise funds for education through satellite TV. It also cut operation costs, partly because the firm offered redundancy programmes.

JSL's profits this year would be better than last year, he said, but he declined to disclose exact figures.

Red Chopsticks blows away the 'Mama index' with quality ingredients and nutritional supplements


Red Chopsticks blows away the 'Mama index' with quality ingredients and nutritional supplements


Economic policymakers have been harping for years about the need for Thai businesses to move up the value chain, establish their own brands and upgrade their product quality and packaging. Sanguan Chanyaputhipong of Mawai Food Corp has taken those words to heart. Earlier this month, the 30-year-old biology graduate and his young colleagues launched his new Red Chopsticks brand as the latest entrant in the highly competitive instant noodle market.

Red Chopsticks isn't your ordinary bowl of noodles. Priced at 49 baht per pack, or two to four times that of leading brands, Red Chopsticks is aimed at the super-premium end of the market and is available only at Tops and Central Food Hall outlets.

''We're a premium noodle, a functional noodle,'' Mr Sanguan said.

For starters, Red Chopsticks is made with high protein wheat flour and is the only product in the market produced with rice bran oil rather than palm oil.

''We have 60% less saturated fat than our competitors and use no salt or MSG in production,'' Mr Sanguan said. ''It's the healthiest instant noodle available in the world.''

Red Chopsticks is available in four flavours, each positioned with a different ''function''.

The best-selling Beauty Bowl is a chicken-flavoured noodle offering 1,050 milligrammes of marine collagen from fish skin, while the tom yam kung-flavoured Power Bowl boasts 190 mg of l-carnitine, a compound often sold as a nutritional supplement. The seaweed-flavoured Green Bowl offers 1,200 mg of dietary fibre, and the seafood-flavoured Kids Bowl boasts at least 200 mg of Omega 3 and DHA fatty acids.

Mr Sanguan said the flavours were based on the natural flavours of each key supplement.

The nutrients were not infused into the noodle during the production process, but rather added to the flavour sachet, he said, to avoid the problems of heat damage to the nutrients during the production or cooking process.

''It's the best form of delivery from a scientific perspective,'' Mr Sanguan said. ''The flavours and function are tied together. L-carnitine, for instance, is naturally sour, so we use it with our tom yam kung product. The Kids Bowl uses fish oils, so seafood was a natural fit.''

Mr Sanguan said the company spent over one year and invested over 100 million baht in developing products with the aim of offering the best noodle available on the market.

The packaging uses environmentally friendly, food-grade plastic that can be reused, microwaved and frozen with no effect on the food. The bowl was designed with ridges along the bottom to allow holding without burning of the hand, while the noodles are wrapped in air-tight plastic to maximise freshness and conform to the bowl shape to reduce breakage.

Mr Sanguan acknowledged that the firm was a decided underdog in the market, but insisted that a market niche was available.

''In the instant noodle market, everyone thinks five baht per pack. No one thinks of the end-user, but rather only on what's easy to make and what's cheapest. No one wants to go out of the box,'' he said.

''We're small and able to move quickly. Our name comes from ma wai [to move quickly].''Red Chopsticks eventually hopes to enter the export market, particularly Western countries such as the US and England to take advantage of the growing demand for healthy foods.

''Consumers want an authentic product, a healthy product, a unique product. Our target are consumers who are health conscious, who are already paying for organic foods and supplements and are controlling their diet.''

Central bank : Inflation to be a major threat


Central bank : Inflation to be a major threat


Accelerating inflation due to commodity prices will be a key economic negative factor next year, according to Tarisa Watanagase, the Bank of Thailand governor.

The central bank has not finalised the inflation forecast for 2008, but rising global commodity prices could lead to a higher local figure, Dr Tarisa said yesterday.

''Inflation is my concern. There are many factors that could push it up including rising oil, agricultural product and other commodity prices,'' she said.

The Finance Ministry expected the headline inflation, as measured by the consumer price index, to stand at 4% in 2008. The central bank's existing forecast put the inflation at 1.5-2.8% next year, with a revision due at the end of January.

''It is difficult to predict if prices will rise as much as 4% as in the ministry's forecast. The key factor for the inflation is oil prices, which are difficult to predict in a long-term trend,'' she said.

The Fiscal Policy Office (FPO) expected the Dubai oil price to stand at $83 per barrel in 2008, compared with $68 per barrel in 2007. Each one-dollar rise in crude prices will add 30 satang to the retail oil prices and 0.3% to inflation.

The FPO expects the minimum wage hike by 1-7 baht across the country to affect the inflation only minimally, in a range from 0.02% to 0.11%. The baht is expected to strengthen to 33.80 baht to a dollar in 2008, compared with 34.60 baht to a dollar in 2007.

The FPO expects each one-baht appreciation against the greenback to bring down the pump prices by 60 satang per litre and reduce inflation by 0.1% per year.

It expects the bus-fare hike by 50 satang to one baht and the lift of cooking-gas subsidy to have a marginal effect on inflation.

The planned 1.20-baht increase in cooking gas price per kilogramme will increase inflation by 0.02%.

GSB reviews portfolio INVESTING


GSB reviews portfolio INVESTING :The Government Savings Bank is diversifying its investment portfolio to foreign assets in a bid to increase its investment returns.

The state-owned bank has invested a relatively modest three billion baht in overseas securities through local foreign investment funds, amounting to around 10% of its 30-billion-baht investment portfolio.

The GSB is expanding its portfolio to not only diversify its market risk, but also in hopes of improving returns to help offset the relatively high carrying costs of its deposits.

One official said offshore investments were yielding significantly higher returns than those in the local market. Short-term money market instruments, for instance, offer an annualised yield of 4.9% based on US Libor (London interbank offered rate), compared with 3.2% for baht securities of similar terms.

Even when adding the cost of currency swaps, offshore securities are paying higher returns than the local market, the official said. Rangoon flights resume

AVIATION :Burma's national airline will resume flights from Rangoon to Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, after unrest in the military-ruled country forced suspension of services in October, the company said yesterday.

Myanmar Airways International (MAI) will fly the routes again from Jan 4. They had to be stopped when the company discovered that its MD-82 aircraft were not fully insured ''for war and allied perils''.

A public-relations official at the flag carrier said it would now be using Airbus A319s to fly to the Thai and Malaysian capitals.

MAI, a state-owned joint venture with Singaporean shareholders, will offer daily flights to Bangkok and five flights a week to Kuala Lumpur. AFP

Khanom rated AA-

ENERGY :Tris Rating has affirmed the rating of the senior secured debentures of Khanom Electricity Generating Co at AA- with a stable outlook.

The rating reflects the company's solid project fundamentals, its strategic position as a major base load generator in Thailand's southern region and its proven operational track record. 16-year bonds yield 5.4%

DEBT MARKET :The Bank of Thailand yesterday auctioned six billion baht worth of 16-year bonds for a weighted average accepted yield of 5.4606%. Accepted bid yields ranged from 5.434% to 5.47%, with the coupon rate 5.5% and the bid coverage ratio 2.9 times.
Muang Thai to lift telemarketing sales

Partnership with KBank big success


Muang Thai Life Assurance is set to tap into the database of Kasikornbank next year to expand its telemarketing sales following a success in their bancassurance partnership, which generates about 3.4 billion baht in new sales for Muang Thai Life this year.

''The performance of the bancassurance channel is outstanding and well above our expectation,'' said Arjan Wes, Muang Thai Life Assurance's director and senior executive vice-president who handles the bancassurance business. ''Our partnership with Kasikornbank alone is expected to produce 3.4 billion baht in first-year premiums on total premiums of over 4.3 billion baht this year.''

Non-listed Muang Thai is currently very active in bancassurance under which it partners with a number of banks. Apart from Kasikornbank, it works with Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Co-operatives (BAAC), LH Bank and the Government Housing Bank.

However, a large distribution stems mainly from Kasikornbank, with which Muang Thai formed the partnership about 31/2 years ago.

According to Mr Wes, Muang Thai expects the partnership with Kasikornbank to produce up to 4.5 billion baht in new business next year, with total premiums expected to increase by 40%.

''Our bank channel is expected to grow at rates of 20-30% on average over the next three years although competition in the bank channel is likely to intensify over the period,'' said Mr Wes.

For the overall operations, Muang Thai Life Assurance also experienced healthy growth in all channels, with first-year premiums for the 11 months rising by 73.41% to 5.16 billion baht from 2.97 billion baht.

Total premiums rose 39.04% to 12.39 billion baht from 8.91 billion baht in the same period last year.

The company posted an operating profit of 1.10 billion baht for the first 11 months of 2007, an increase of 20.67% from the same period last year.

President Sara Lamsam said the company was expected a better-than-expected performance this year.

Muang Thai has set a premium target of 12.68 billion baht this year, up 23% from last year, with new business increasing 34% to 4.41 billion baht.

According to its executives, the company projects its first-year premiums to grow by at least 40% next year, with total premiums increasing at least 15-20%.

''The growth reflects our improved financial strength. We currently have a capital fund worth up to 6.567 billion baht, eight times higher than the requirement set by the Office of the Insurance Commission, or equivalent to 247% of the EU standard,'' he said.

The US ratings firm Standard & Poor's Rating Services has recently affirmed its BBB+ rating on Muang Thai Life Assurance, with a stable outlook, on the back of solid and fast-growing business profile and strong profitability and capitalisation.

The ratings also took into account the technical assistance provided by the minority shareholder Fortis group.

Muang Thai Life's profitability is strong, according to S&P analysts.

They noted that its ratio of after-tax profit to average assets was 2.4% in 2006 and 2.2% in 2005.

According to S&P, Muang Thai is expected to maintain a good financial profile underpinned by good underwriting profits and capitalisation.

Holiday retail sales in line with expectations

Holiday retail sales in line with expectations

Online shopping is really clicking


New York _ US retailers' sales rose 3.6% in holiday shopping, at the lower-end of expectations, helped by a late-season spending surge on some items, according to data released on Tuesday by SpendingPulse. The figures, from the retail data service of MasterCard Advisors, offer a glimpse at the strength of the 2007 holiday shopping season, which was expected to grow at the slowest rate in five years, as US consumers face a housing slump, a credit crunch and higher prices for food and fuel.

''It's more at the lower end of the expected range but more or less in line with the reduced expectations coming into the holiday season,'' Michael McNamara, vice president of Research and Analysis for MasterCard Advisors, said.

SpendingPulse, a report released by MasterCard, had projected spending to rise 3.5% to 4.0% over last year's holiday season. The figures include gasoline spending.

Economists and policy makers have been closely monitoring the US consumer, a sector increasingly seen as the saviour that could keep the US economy from slipping into a recession. Some analysts expect US gross domestic product (GDP) to weaken in the fourth quarter and show either no expansion or up just by 1%.

''If you were looking for this holiday season to kick-start a new acceleration of growth, you'll probably be disappointed,'' McNamara said.

The last two weeks did show signs a late-round spending surge, he said.

SpendingPulse said sales at US specialty apparel chains, which include Gap Inc, Aeropostale Inc and Urban Outfitters Inc, rose 1.4% over last year, rallying from the anaemic 0.5% seen at mid-season.

The results measure the crucial shopping period from the Friday after Thanksgiving through midnight Dec 24. They are adjusted for the 32 days included in this year's period compared with the 31 days in 2006.

Women's clothing sales fell 2.4%, but showed that sales made up some ground having been down 5.7% at mid-season.

On the other hand, sales of men's clothing rose 2.3% but had been up by 4.5% at mid-season.

McNamara said that so far, there ''is no compelling evidence that retailers cut prices more than they did last year.''

Consumer electronics, which includes popular gift items such as Apple Inc iPods, laptop computers, flat-screen televisions, and also appliances rose 2.7%.

SpendingPulse tracks sales activity in the MasterCard Inc payments network and couples it with estimates for all other payment forms.

Online shopping showed the greatest growth, up 22.4%.

Sales of luxury items, excluding jewellery, grew 7.1%. However, including jewellery, sales fell 1.9%. Footwear also did well, up 6%.

The results do not include the post-Christmas spending activity, which has been growing with the popularity of gift cards, which are typically redeemed after Christmas and post-holiday sales.

Last year, shopping during the seven days after Christmas reached $58 billion, McNamara said, and has been running at about 15% to 16% of the post-Thanksgiving season for the past four years.

''I wouldn't be surprised if we crack $60 billion,'' he said. ''It's becoming a more important period.'' REUTERS.

Firms get WiMax go-ahead

Firms get WiMax go-ahead


The National Telecommunications Commission has granted permits for 12 telecom operators to test WiMax wireless broadband technology.

However, it does not intend to grant licences for third-generation (3G) wireless services until the formation of its regulatory successor, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC).

Suranant Wongvittayakamjorn, the NTC secretary-general, said the 12 operators were True Move, True Universal Communication, Siemens, Loxley, Ericsson, CAT Telecom, TOT, Samart Telcom, Trans Pacific Telecom, Triple T Broadband, Shin Satellite, and United Communication Industry.

WiMax is a wireless digital communications system intended for wireless ''metropolitan area networks''.

It can provide broadband wireless access within a radius of up to 50 kilometres for fixed stations, and 5-15 km for mobile stations.Mr Suranant said that the NTC had earlier allowed AIS, DTAC and True Move, the country's three major cellular providers, to test 3G, but commercial service could not be permitted until the NBTC was in place to grant licences.

He said that the NTC had also granted a 15-year Type 3 telecom licence to CS Loxinfo to provide wired and wireless broadband on the 2.4-2.5 Ghz bandwidth with an investment of 1.5 billion baht over 10 years.

The regulator has also granted a Type 3 licence to Sawaddee Shop to provide broadband internet.

Discussing the three vacancies on the seven-member NTC, Mr Suranant said that a 17-member selection committee was expected to meet to begin the selection process in two weeks.

He admitted that the selection process started a year ago but had proceeded slowly due to various problems. However now the selection of the 17-member committee has been completed and it could begin screening candidates for the NTC vacancies.

PTT Plc set to pay commercial rates

PTT Plc set to pay commercial rates

Consumers could see higher energy prices


The rental rate that PTT Plc will pay to use the national gas-pipeline network will be set on commercial terms, according to Treasury Department officials. Three models could used to determine the rental fee for the pipeline, said Amnuay Preemonwong, the deputy director-general of the Treasury Department.

The government could stipulate a set return on assets in calculating the rental fee, or demand a revenue-sharing percentage from PTT's operations. The third option would be to use a net revenue-sharing formula, minus the 17 billion baht already invested by PTT in the land-based pipeline segments.

In any case, Mr Amnuay said the rental fee would be subject to a 15% increase every five years. The rental increases would be based on an assumption of 3% inflation per year and would be in line with standard practice used by the Treasury Department in assessing property values.

''The rental fee will be set on a commercial basis, considering that shareholders benefiting from PTT include both private Thai and foreign shareholders,'' he said. The Finance Ministry is the largest single PTT shareholder at 52%.

The Supreme Administrative Court earlier this month ordered PTT Plc to return to state ownership pipeline assets constructed on property gained through land expropriation while PTT was a state enterprise.

PTT, which was privatised and listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand in 2001, said the ruling would affect about 15 billion baht worth of assets, counting only pipeline segments on land gained from expropriation. The majority of PTT's gas pipeline, running underwater in the Gulf of Thailand, was not stipulated for transfer.

On Dec 18, the cabinet agreed to a preliminary rental rate set at a minimum 5% of revenues minus operating and maintenance expenses of another 3%.

Mr Amnuay said that overall, 400 kilometres of the pipeline would be returned to the Finance Ministry. The ministry is also expected to receive backdated rentals from PTT's privatisation in October 2001, which, if using the minimum rate of 5% minus expenses, would be around 350 million baht per year.

Cabinet ministers agreed to fix the final rates based on a balancing of needs among consumers, shareholders and PTT itself.

A high rental rate, while maximising returns for the government, could potentially result in higher gas and electricity prices. A low rate, in contrast, would raise allegations of favouritism for PTT and private shareholders.

A working group formed to consider the issue met for the first time yesterday. The next meeting is scheduled for Jan 3, with the final rate to be announced later in the month.

Mr Amnuay said committee members used as one test case the 30-year rental agreement of the Mahboonkrong shopping complex with Chulalongkorn University.

Anon Sirisaengtaksin, a PTT senior executive vice-president, said the final rate should consider the various needs of the public and stakeholders.

''If the rate is too high, it will hurt our shareholders and power consumers will need to bear some of the costs. But if the rate is too low, government income will be affected. We'll have to strike a balance,'' he said.

''We can't say [the base rate] will begin at 5%. It might be more, it might be less.''

In another development, PTT executives said yesterday that imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) would be delayed by one year to 2012 due to delays in negotiations with Iran.

PTT's new 30-billion-baht LNG terminal at Map Ta Phut is expected to become operational in 2011.

The company has opened talks with suppliers in Egypt, Oman and Qatar about possibly supplying LNG to compensate for the delay in Iranian shipments.

Chitrapongse Kwangsuksathit, a PTT executive vice-president, said that PTT planned to import three million tonnes per year of LNG from the Pars site, a joint venture of National Iranian Oil Co, TotalFinaElf and Petronas.

Egypt could supply another one million tonnes of LNG per year and another two million each from Qatar and Oman.

''The amount of supplies from each country has yet to be concluded. These numbers are just preliminary estimates, and much depends on the results of our negotiations,'' Mr Chitrapongse added.

LNG prices in the global market have moved upward in line with crude oil prices and higher demand from East Asia. Thailand is seeking new LNG supplies to help meet growing natural gas demand. Demand is projected to reach 5,000 million standard cubic feet per day (mmcfd) by 2011 from 3,300 mmcfd now, driven in part by the rising popularity of natural gas as a fuel source for automobiles.

Holiday surge leads to crowded airport


Holiday surge leads to crowded airport


The crowding at Suvarnabhumi Airport is becoming even more apparent during the holiday season as the airport's capacity is fully utilised.

Average daily passenger traffic through Bangkok's new airport between Dec 28 and Jan 3 is expected to be 121,000 passengers, exceeding the airport's designed capacity of 120,000 passengers, said Airports of Thailand Plc (AoT).

About 17,000 more passengers are expected to go through the airport each day in the period, above the daily average of 104,285 passengers on normal days.

In other words, there would be 850,000 more passengers passing through the airport in the period and most of international arrivals are Asians.

Higher passenger volumes reflect a 21% increase in international flight numbers, both scheduled and chartered, to 182 from between Dec 25 and Jan 5.

However, the domestic flight numbers through the Suvarnabhumi are falling 78% in the period to 51 from 183 a year ago as many non-connecting domestic flights were diverted to the old Don Mueang Airport that was reopened in March this year.

The busiest days at Suvarnabhumi will be on Dec 29 and Jan 2 when there would be 38 and 25 additional flights operating, respectively.

Serirat Prasutanond, the general manager of Suvarnabhumi airport, said the airport was prepared to cope with the holiday traffic surge. This meant making sure that all facilities including aprons, aerobridges and baggage systems are in good working condition. Airport staff and security have geared up to deal with strong demand. Security personnel excluding police officers, have been increased by 350 to 1,350. Eight hundred and fifty of them are from AoT and 500 are from Loxley, the licensed security firm.

An information centre to assist passengers would be set up in the passenger terminal's seventh-floor hall, which would be operating 24 hours a day (tel 0-2132-9946/7)

In its first year to Sept 30, Suvarnabhumi handled 41.93 million passengers, 267,555 take-offs and landings, and 1.18 million tonnes of cargo.

Planners at AoT, the monopoly that runs the country's six major airports, believes the volume through Suvarnabhumi would soar to 44.5 million passengers next year, before brimming over shortly after.

Government plans to float dollar, yen bonds


Government plans to float dollar, yen bonds


The Public Debt Management Office is gearing up to float new dollar- and yen-denominated bonds in the international debt markets to help establish a benchmark for Thai corporate issuers, said director-general Pongpanu Svetarunvra.

He said the timing was right for the Finance Ministry to go abroad, as offshore funding costs were below those of the local market.

Authorities plan to issue a Samurai bond in the Japanese market in April 2008 to help refinance existing debt, followed later with a dollar-denominated Yankee bond.

''We don't have any real need to issue debt, considering that we can borrow dollars for terms of five to 10 years from either the European or Asian markets at a potentially lower cost than in the US market,'' Mr Pongpanu said.

''If we do issue in the US, we would want to go for a long-term issue, say of 30 years, which the US market is well capable of accepting.''

Chakkrit Parapuntakul, director of the PDMO's International Finance Bureau, said seven-year Samurai bonds carry an annualised yield of 1.27%.

A Thai government issue in Japan would likely cost 20 to 40 basis points over current yields, or the equivalent of 1.47% to 1.67%, which is still cheaper than the 2.7% annual interest paid on existing yen borrowings by the government.

Mr Chakkrit said the government currently owed around 53 billion yen coming due next May, which the PDMO wants to refinance through new bond issues.

Mr Pongpanu added that the PDMO had approved applications from 10 international financial and sovereign institutions to issue baht-denominated local bonds in the first half of the year, totalling 48.9 billion baht.

Among the agencies seeking to issue domestic bonds are Agence Francaise de De{aac}veloppement (AFD), the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, the Japan Bank for International Co-operation and KfW.

The baht-denominated issues by international agencies are part of a government plan to help diversify the domestic bond market.

The Finance Ministry also plans to follow 41 billion baht worth of bond issues made in the first quarter of fiscal 2008 with another 50.95 billion in the fiscal second quarter from January to March 2008.

The bonds, which have durations of five, 10, 15 and 20 years, are aimed at creating new benchmarks for the bond market as well as raise funds to cover the budget deficit.

Thailand's tsunami children are being helped to overcome their problems through 'phototherapy'

MAIN PHOTO AND RIGHT z Aekapong Navarak, 13, took a picture of his friend sitting in the shade of a big tree stump on Laem Pakarang beach. z Nuchara Navarak, a 13-year-old from the Moken village of Ban Thung Wa, snaps a shot of her friends near a coconut tree decorated with mock-up direction signs put up by foreign tsunami volunteers at Laem Pakarang beach.



Thailand's tsunami children are being helped to overcome their problems through 'phototherapy'


Thailand's tsunami children were the subjects of photographers from around the world who covered the Dec 26, 2004 disaster here _ and many have now become photographers themselves. The inspiration came from a series of photography workshops for kids held by a group of Thai and foreign photojournalists. The photos published on this page were taken by youngsters affected by the Boxing Day tsunami, including children of Burmese migrant workers and ethnic Moken, in Phangnga's Takua Pa district.

These youngsters have suffered many hardships and several projects have been set up to help them recover from the pain and suffering they had to go through.

Believing in the healing power of the arts, some photojournalists who covered the 2004 Asian tsunami launched a photo training project they called InSIGHT Out! to teach the kids how to take photos and write stories about their own lives and communities.

The people behind the project hope that giving kids a chance to explore and tell their own stories about their post-tsunami lives through the lens will open a window of creativity and strengthen their self-respect, thus helping them to recover from the pain caused by the tsunami. This, they said, is called ''photography therapy''.

Sponsored by Unicef, the Grassroots Human Rights Education and Development Committee and the Duang Prateep Foundation, almost 300 children have joined the workshop since 2006. Thousands of tsunami pictures taken by professional photographers have been published over the past few years. These pictures however, show the stories of some of Thailand's ''tsunami children'' through their own eyes.

I, the electorate, have spoken

POSTBag136 Na Ranong Road, Klong Toey, Bangkok 10110, ThailandFfax:022403666Femail:postbag

I, the electorate, have spoken. You may not like what you hear, but respect it you must! True reconciliation will only come once we, the people in Bangkok, get it through our heads that the people in the North and Northeast are also Thai, and that their vote counts as much as those from Bangkok. SANTI RATTISETHI No more coups, please One thing that the Dec 23 elections showed is that we should have no more coups d'etat.

Mainly, coups don't work. Last year's coup had everything going for it: a warm initial reception by Bangkokians, the junta leader was army chief, the prime minister was not only ex-army head but a former privy councillor, the deposed PM and his party's executive committee were banned from politics for five years, and the main remaining party was headed by a young, energetic, photogenic, Oxford-educated leader. What more could one want?

Yet the junta's accomplishments have been as scarce as hen's teeth. Our GDP is the slowest-growing in Southeast Asia; to this day I still don't see the junta's road map to solve our southern problems, and they've failed abysmally to show the rural folk how bad Thaksin was for them.

PM Surayud and Gen Sonthi, like ex-PM Thaksin, scrupulously failed to implement the rule of law when it came to those in uniform, e.g. at Tak Bai or Krue Se, or the 2,500 extra-judicial drug war-related killings.

So what are we left with? Educating the public, of course, so that we are better able to analyse and weigh alternatives, and inform you, our leaders, where we want you to take us.

So Khun Samak and Khun Abhisit, don't tell us where you want to take us. Rather, convince us and show that what you propose is sustainable. BURIN KANTABUTRA Democrat coalition

far from reality I find the Democrat party secretary-general's hope of forming a government in the current tussle as somewhat strange, (''PPP reaches out to other parties'', Bangkok Post, Dec 25).

Without a shadow of doubt, the Democrat-led coalition with a combination of all the other parties except People Power party (PPP) is far from reality. With a command of 248 against one party (PPP with 232 seats), the Democrats can hardly survive with a theoretical majority of eight, which can dwindle down if some are subsequently red-carded by the Election Commission. I am afraid the Democrats are now destined to be the leading opposition again.

Chart Thai, with 37 seats, hardly matters to the PPP. In excluding Chart Thai, PPP still has two alternative choices of forming a formidable coalition with 253 seats _ if Puea Pandin, with 25 seats, is excluded, or 278 seats if it is included.

I venture to guess that the scenario of 278 seats in a PPP-led coalition is most likely because, from the past conduct of Thai political parties with the exception of the Democrats, they have never liked to be in the opposition, and the tide has now turned to recognise that it may not be that bad to affiliate with former Thaksin members. SONGDEJ PRADITSMANONT Stunning victory So despite all the hurdles put in its way, the PPP or de facto TRT manages to pull off a stunning landslide victory, on the same scale of 2005, without even having the advantage of state networks.

Is this truly the will of the people? Considering it lost 111 of its best MPs to a ban and about 80 others to defection, I find the result hard to believe, especially in a country where people traditionally vote by patronage.

I'll be interested to see what the final figures look like after all the vote-buying complaints are investigated.

However, disqualifying two dozen or more PPP candidates, among others, is just going to look like a farce to the rest of the world and I think the PPP well knows it. NORTHERNER Do not 'glamourise' Khao Yai Park I was disappointed to read the article ''High life on the big mountain'', about Khao Yai National Park's makeover into a glamorous, jet-setting, ''cultured'' destination.

When I was young, in the late '80s and early '90s, there were several winters where my family would take a holiday at Khao Yai in a modest cabin we rented with another family. We shivered under blankets at night, and in the day we hiked on Khao Yai's beautiful trails, carrying a picnic lunch.

During the evenings we made a fire outside and talked, sang and laughed. We were there for the freedom and stillness that only a place like that could provide.

Here's to the hope that the five-star service, award-winning wine, fashionable topics du jour and Italian sausage have not completely obliterated the park I loved as a child _ the one that Earth created. BENNETT POOSAWTSEE Michigan, USA

Going forward, democratically

Going forward, democratically

Daily News Editorial _ The results of last Sunday's general election should enable the country's democratic system to move forward. Before the election, it was widely speculated in various circles that the next government would be a coalition of various parties, making it unstable.

Parties which are left out of the coalition and some power groups opposed to certain members of the new government might organise protests, thereby precipitating a new round of political conflict.

These dire predictions may not materialise. It all depends on the Thai people.

Those bent on fomenting turmoil will not succeed if the public are against it.

Of course, everyone has the right to support or reject any political groups or parties, but they must listen to the voice of the majority and take care that their actions are democratic.

The party that gains the most votes in parliament must be responsive to the voice of others as well.

It must let the democratic system run its course.

Parties that are able to form a new coalition government must also listen to those with different ideas and policies.

All politicians must embrace the country's democratic system with His Majesty the King as head of state.

They must follow the King's appeal for unity and reconciliation.

Without unity and reconciliation, it is difficult to create peace and happiness. If every party shares the same intention to work for the benefit of the country and the public, there will be no more conflict.

Their unity will also prevent forces outside the democratic system from intervening in the political process.

Actors take temporary jobs to make ends meet


Actors take temporary jobs to make ends meet


New York _ If you're a moviegoer or TV watcher, don't be surprised if you could swear you've seen that face before. That person wrapping your present, selling you a sweater, serving booze at your holiday party or sweating beneath that Santa beard could be an actor. With a writers' strike shutting down productions and drying up acting work in New York, many actors are being forced to take holiday-related temporary jobs to get by, according to staffing agencies and actors' organiations.

Take Janifer Youmans, who has acted in commercials, television movies and soaps including All My Children and As the World Turns. These days, you can see her starring at a gift shop next to the big Christmas tree at Rockefeller Centre, wrapping presents.

And if you happen to use a certain online tax preparation service, it may be Adam Phillips, 43, who does frequent television work and has acted in films with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, who prepares your tax forms.

''We're getting a lot of actors calling for temp work because of the strike,'' said Marty Gargle, an owner of the Employment Line, a staffing service in Manhattan that works with a number of actors. Ms Gargle herself is a former actress who still takes a role or two and has many industry contacts and a steady advertisement for her agency in Back Stage, an entertainment industry magazine.

''They're taking jobs wrapping packages, addressing cards, anything,'' she said. ''They just want something to last them through the strike, which works well with the need for holiday help because it's temporary by nature.

''Mostly, it's actors who get smaller roles on soaps. They're not stars, but they are actors who have a foothold in the industry and just need to pay the bills. They're not giving up on acting.''

Even without the strike, she said, actors make excellent temps. ''They're very employable and have flexible schedules,'' Ms Gargle said. ''They do very well in corporate jobs because they can sell the role and be what you want them to be in an office, and rise to the occasion.''

Mr Phillips, who has been in series like Law & Order and Rescue Me, and soaps including One Life to Live and All My Children, not to mention a part in the forthcoming Sex and the City film, said he has four children to support.

With a college degree in accounting, he has taken to working for a company that prepares tax forms online and has resorted to selling off part of his CD collection and other possessions on eBay. There are low-paying roles out there, he said, non-union jobs that pay $50 a day, but he refuses to take them.

''With the writers' strike, it's very, very slim pickings out there for background or feature work, and there are so many actors competing for them,'' he said. ''I'm collecting unemployment and looking for work. I'd like to get a job in retail, but I know as soon as I commit, the gigs will start coming in.''

Ms Youmans, of Queens, stood wrapping gifts and helping customers last weekend in the Metropolitan Museum of Art gift shop at Rockefeller Centre.

''It started as a holiday temp job, but I really got to like working here,'' she said. ''Everything you do is character study for acting. I watch the shoppers, how they act, and you even get famous actors coming in to shop.'' After answering a customer's question, she continued: ''We had Alan Alda in here, and Bette Midler, too, recently _ you can learn a lot by just watching a good actor.''

Sue Porter Henderson, 64, an actor and career consultant, has been a background nurse for the past 35 years on As the World Turns. She said she knows many actors who have taken side jobs this month _ including handing out advertising flyers on the street, selling in department stores and taking tickets for the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall.

''Nobody's too proud when it comes to making ends meet,'' she said. ''I know a make-up artist who is taking on people going to holiday parties. The other day, I saw an actor I recognised from soaps _ he was selling Christmas trees on the Upper West Side.''

Kay Gaffney has acted for 16 years in background roles in soaps like As the World Turns and films including Meet Joe Black and Woody Allen's Celebrity. She has been filling in as a secretary this month.

''A lot of offices are having Christmas parties, and people leave for a few hours and need someone to fill in and take in packages and things,'' she said. ''Temp work is a Band-Aid to get us through.''

Despite the strike, there are still some films and shows casting. Ms Henderson said she went to an open casting call recently for a new film called Shopaholics.

''There were 1,500 people, where you usually would have had a few hundred,'' she said. ''I recognised actors from Law & Order and another guy who stands in for Alec Baldwin, all for some background work doing outdoor shooting in January.

''It was in a church basement, and I saw a lot of actors going from the audition line right to the soup kitchen,'' she said. ''I am not kidding _ they said they had no money.'' NYT

Asia's money talks, humbled West walks


Asia's money talks, humbled West walks

Unfolding troubles in credit markets have the West holding its hat out to cash-rich Asian states


You would expect a year marking the 10th anniversary of the Asian crisis to be hectic, and 2007 didn't disappoint. Coup attempts, subprime fallout, terrorist attacks, scandals, volatile stocks, elections, you name it. Yet the biggest news wasn't a singular event; it was a not-so-subtle shift in Asia's role in global markets.

Growth in Asia boomed as more developed regions plodded along. As the dollar lost its footing, currencies like the baht surged 18% and the Indian rupee jumped 15%.

And as the Unitd States' clout waned, China blanketed the globe, grabbing resources, making new friends and ignoring US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's demands to revalue the yuan.

The real shift, though, was about purse strings.

A decade ago, Asia's financial meltdown set in motion a series of humiliations that forced governments to allow Western investors to buy assets at knockdown prices.

Now, it's Wall Street's turn. Unfolding troubles in credit markets have the West holding its hat out to cash-rich Asian states.

As 2007 draws to a close, some awards seem in order for the countries and people that, for better or worse, helped shape Asia's year. Drum roll, please.

F''Money Talks'' Award: To Asian and Arab governments awash in riches from rising currency reserves and oil prices.

Two years ago, Dubai couldn't buy US ports because of ''national security risks''. Now, few in the West are questioning selling off stakes in American financial institutions to Dubai, China, Singapore and others.

You'd think a nation losing control of its financial infrastructure is at least as big a risk as a couple of ports.

But with credit markets reeling, it's hard for Citigroup Inc to decline a multi-billion-dollar lifeline from Abu Dhabi Investment Authority. Or for Morgan Stanley and Bear Stearns to say no to state-linked Chinese money. Expect such deals to come under greater scrutiny in 2008.

F''Greetings Earthlings'' Award: To Japan's top government spokesman, Nobutaka Machimura, who last week thrilled science fiction fans by stating that he ''definitely'' believes UFOs exist.

The celestial admission came as reporters questioned him about demands by an opposition lawmaker for a probe into ''frequent reports of UFO sightings''.

''Bulldozer'' Award: To Lee Myung-bak, who won last week's election in South Korea. Neither corruption allegations nor record-low voter turnout kept Mr Lee from his goal of becoming Korea's first president from a corporate background.

It also brought new meaning to his nickname, ''the Bulldozer''.

The moniker comes from his days at the construction arm of Hyundai Group.

Now, it also could refer to Mr Lee's dogged push to change an economy held back by the policies of outgoing President Roh Moo-hyun. With so much red tape through which to bulldoze, Mr Lee shouldn't expect much of a honeymoon.

''Never Mind'' Award: To Bank of Japan governor Toshihiko Fukui, who for nearly five years threatened to raise interest rates amid daily predictions that deflation had been defeated. It turns out he may need to cut rates as economists talk about a Japanese recession in 2008.

Just a few years ago, Mr Fukui was toasted by financial magazines as the world's best central banker, even better than Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan.

On second thought, given the subprime mess Mr Greenspan let fester, perhaps Mr Fukui isn't looking so bad after all.

''Howard's End'' Award: To Kevin Rudd, Australia's new prime minister. This time last year, Mr Rudd was a little known opposition politician. Today, he is the talk of political circles after ending John Howard's 10-year-plus reign. Mr Rudd immediately signed the Kyoto Protocol, simultaneously putting Australia at the forefront of combating climate change and isolating US President George Walker Bush. In a year of tepid political leadership, Mr Rudd shone brightly.

F''Toxic Shock'' Award: To China, which triggered a global search for goods not made within its borders. How devastating 2007 was for the world's factory floor was summed up in a recent cartoon by David Horsey of Hearst Corp. In it, a boy sitting on Santa's lap says: ''I want toys that aren't toxic and aren't made by little kids in Asian sweatshops.''

Santa replies: ''Wow! You really believe in Santa Claus!''

Rather than clamping down immediately on makers of contaminated food, tainted pet products, defective toys, fake mineral water and other quality-control nightmares, China blamed the media for hyping the story.

In 2008, we will see how much dithering permanently tainted the Made-in-China brand.

F''Teflon'' Award: Shared by President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan and President Gloria Arroyo of the Philippines, for clinging to power amid continued efforts to oust them.

Mr Musharraf outmanoeuvred opponents by declaring emergency rule. Mrs Arroyo survived yet another coup attempt and yet more allegations of corruption.

Anyone looking for the secret to staying in power should put down their Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt histories. Mr Musharraf and Mrs Arroyo seem to be writing the definitive book on the issue as we speak.

F''Defying Gravity'' Award: To Asia's equity markets, which had yet another stellar year. While China's stock bubble got most of the focus _ the benchmark CSI 300 Index was up 163% in local currency terms as of Dec 21 _ double digit gains were widespread.

As of Dec 21, shares in Australia, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam were up 20% or more.

With Asian currencies set to rise further, 2008 could be another solid year for the region's equities.

William Pesek is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

New govt must push for unity

New govt must push for unity

Even before the Election Commission released the unofficial results of the Dec 23 election, the People Power party began behind-the-scenes talks with potential partners to form a coalition government. As of now, the party appears to have the edge over the Democrats in the race to set up a government, which could include the rest of the other parties. As the party coming in second, the Democrats have played a fair game by complying with the unwritten political tradition which dictates that the victor has the first right to form a government after the election. Only if the PPP fails in its attempt _ which is unlikely for the time being _ will the Democrat party then give it a try.

For the public in general, whether the next coalition government is led by the PPP or by the Democrats does not seem to matter as much as whether the new government will be able to deliver as promised and to move the country out of political quagmire towards prosperity. First of all, the new government must be politically stable. If figures alone are taken into consideration, the PPP-led coalition would be more stable than the one led by the Democrats, if the former manages to bring together Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana, Pracharaj, Matchimathipataya, Puea Pandin or Chart Thai under its wing.

Even if the Democrats and the rest of the parties, except PPP, were to combine together, they would command just a slim majority in parliament, placing the coalition in a vulnerable position.

If the majority of the people prefer a stable government, then the probable choice will be a PPP-led coalition. In which case, those who voted for the Democrat party _ a majority of the urban middle class _ will have to accept PPP leader Samak Sundaravej as the country's leader. As a matter of principle, the leader of the party which wins the most seats in the election should be made prime minister.

As in all previous elections, the voters are treated as kings before the election by the politicians. But once the ballots are cast, their voices are rarely heeded.

Hence, the repeated calls for honest and efficient people to be put in ministerial posts are often drowned by the fierce struggle among politicians attempting to outdo one another to grab positions. Quite often this has ended up with people of questionable track records but with greater clout getting the job.

After more than a year of desperation and economic difficulty and with the political divide as wide as ever, the people have high expectations from the new government.

Foremost on the list of great expectations is that the government must restore national reconciliation to bring back confidence in the country and for the government to quickly address pressing economic problems.

The PPP must be aware that national reconciliation will not be achieved so long as there are elements within the party who continue to spread rumours that General Prem Tinsulanonda, president of the Privy Council, is pulling the strings from behind to block the PPP from forming a government. Nor does the PPP's plan to seek an early amnesty for the 111 former Thai Rak Thai executives banned from politics for five years help in national reconciliation. The same holds true for the plan to dissolve the Assets Scrutiny Committee.

The PPP's de facto leader, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, also holds the key to the restoration of national reconciliation.

But his latest remarks and actions appear to contradict his repeated promise that he has washed his hands of politics, and have caused unease back home. Keeping a low profile would be to his own benefit and that of the PPP.

A golden opportunity is now open for the PPP to right the wrongs committed by its predecessor Thai Rak Thai, and to prove that it can lead the country to prosperity, peace, stability and harmony. It would be a pity if this opportunity is spoiled for the simple reason that it treats the personal interests of individuals as more important than those of the nation.

Safer buildings proposed for tsunami areas


Safer buildings proposed for tsunami areas

Houses and hotels in tsunami-prone areas should be built to new minimum standards to better protect them from the power of future waves, experts say. Their advice has been compiled in a manual which sets out suggested minimum safety standards for new buildings in coastal provinces in the South.

''We don't mean that buildings which follow the new standards could resist the waves. It would just make them stronger. People would still need to run to higher areas anyway,'' said Panitan Lakkunaprasit, of Chulalongkorn University's civil engineering department.

Mr Panitan led a team which surveyed damaged buildings in tsunami-flattened areas and analysed data on earthquakes.

They then used this information to draft a construction manual for people in high-risk areas.

At the least, this would help minimise damage from a tsunami, he said.

People are advised not to build their homes near waterways, because the waves surge rapidly into them.

Contractors are advised to use iron reinforcing in concrete structures and avoid using wood. Construction of basements in a tsunami-prone area is strongly discouraged as the people inside might not hear the tsunami early warning alarm.

Chulalongkorn University has also been hired by the Department of Public Works and Town and Country Planning to set safety standards for buildings that would serve as temporary shelters in the event of a tsunami, Mr Panitan said.

The buildings would house villagers living in low-lying areas too far away from high ground. The shelters would likely be built in areas such as Khao Lak in Phangnga, he said.

Khao Lak was the hardest hit area in the Dec 26, 2004 tsunami which killed nearly 5,400 people _ half of them foreign tourists.

Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry has increased the number of provinces categorised as prone to earthquakes. They include Bangkok and neighbouring provinces, along with Chiang Mai and Kanchanaburi. Experts say the 9.3 magnitude undersea quake that caused the tsunami activated a lot of fault lines in Asia and put many areas at increased risk.

Rotarian drowns in boat accident


Rotarian drowns in boat accident


Pathum Thani _ The president of Pathum Thani Rotary Club drowned when the boat he was in capsized while delivering polio vaccine to communities along Rangsit canal in Thanyaburi district yesterday. Yongchai Surapanthanakorn, 46, managed to get his two-year-old daughter Nicha to safety but drowned when he swam back to help his wife Kanittha, 44, survivor Thagorn Sahasuntorn said.

Police said the accident was reported at about noon. Police found a 20-seat long-tail boat capsized in the middle of the 200-metre-wide canal.

Nine people were taken to hospital and one reported missing. A police diving team recovered Yongchai's body.

Supranee Ongsakul, 43, said the club had hired the boat to ferry 10 members and guests on a trip to provide oral polio vaccine to children in communities along the canal.

Mr Thaworn said the boat had gone only about 100m when the driver, identified only as Mr Chan, told passengers to move to the back. He said water was gushing into the front.

The driver tried to head to shore but the boat rapidly became waterlogged and sank in seconds, he said. Officials suspect the boat was overloaded and are searching for the driver.

Jobs in Bahrain 'could be risky'


Jobs in Bahrain 'could be risky'

Labour authorities in Nakhon Ratchasima province have warned job seekers to be careful if they intend to work in Bahrain or Turkey. The warning came after a worker sought help from the Thai embassy in Bahrain's capital Manama.

The man was first told he would be paid 20,000 baht a month, and later made to pay 58,000 baht for return air tickets to Bahrain, said provincial labour office chief Saeng-ngern Khaolikhit.

When he started work he was paid only about 12,500 baht a month and the employer kept his passport, crane driver's licence and air ticket, Mr Saeng-ngern said. Eight other men subsequently reported similar problems.

He said the embassy was arranging for the men's return to Thailand.

He also warned women who plan to work as masseuses in Turkey that they could be forced into prostitution. His office had received several complaints from Thai women working there.

Brokers charged each woman a job placement fee of 43,000 baht.

The Foreign Ministry yesterday warned workers overstaying visas in Bahrain to contact the embassy in Manama quickly, as the deadline for amnesty was only days away. The Bahrain government has said foreigners overstaying visas can return home without facing fines and jail terms if they contact their embassies by the end of the month.

Report shows Bangkok thieves normally strike after midnight


Report shows Bangkok thieves normally strike after midnight

Bangkok's criminals prefer to strike between midnight and 6am if they have an acquisitive eye on your valuables. A study commissioned by the Justice Ministry also shows that women aged about 41 living in conditions that allow no privacy are most at risk of being robbed.

The researchers had in-depth interviews last year with 1,531 Bangkok residents who were victims of crime, the Office of Justice Affairs said.

While most, 85%, were robbed only once, a few reported as many as four thefts during the year.

And most disturbingly, about 63% of the victims said they did not report the crime to police.

While crimes targeting victims' valuables were most likely to occur after midnight, death, serious injury or sexual abuse was most common between 6pm and midnight.

Fraudsters, on the other hand, tend to prefer daylight, most frequently forging or copying victims' information and documents between 6am and 6pm.

The study team, led by Assoc Prof Kamolthip Khatikarn and Assist Prof Jutharat Ua-amnuay of Chulalongkorn University's political science faculty, also identified the characteristics of people most vulnerable to robbery _ married women aged about 41 with an education no higher than primary school level. Those women were likely to be low-income earners running small businesses and living in accommodation where they did not have private living quarters.

At the same time, most of the criminals were male, aged 18 to 25 years.

While some preferred to operate alone, many worked with associates. More than half of the victims did not know the culprits.

When there was more than one villain, most victims were unable to recognise more than one.

Wisit Wisitsora-at, director of the Office of Justice Affairs, said he expected this kind of study of crime patterns would lead to the development of national crime rate statistics. This would help police better plan their crime prevention effort.

Voters pick PPP

Voters pick PPP


The Palang Prachachon (People Power) party loyal to Thaksin Shinawatra won Sunday's election, but appeared to fall just short of a clear parliamentary majority. Still: "I will be the next premier for sure," said PPP leader Samak Sundaravej.

"The coup is dead," Samak told a press conference after unofficial results showed his party had won at least 230 of the 480 contested seats at Sunday's polls.

Samak, 72, is likely to become Thailand's 25th prime minister. "Now the people have had their say. The numbers that came out are an answer to those people," meaning the military.

With 92 per cent of the votes counted near midnight, PPP had 228 seats and the Democrats had 166. In all, 241 seats are needed fora majority.

The midnight results had Chart Thai party with 39 seats, while Puea Pandin party got 26 seats, Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana won 10 seats, Matchimathipataya had 7 seats and Pracharaj had four.

Two independent polls showed the People Power Party ahead by a wide margin in a strong repudiation of the generals, who had worked hard to discredit former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and to neutralise his supporters.

"I voted for Thaksin's party," said Siriporn Buntam, the owner of a small restaurant in the rice-growing province of Lopburi, west of Bangkok. Thaksin was the only politician who cared about the poor, she said. "Only when he was prime minister did we really get attention."

Sanit Chutipattana, 58, a salesman in Yala, in the Democrat Party's stronghold in southern Thailand, said he, too, was supporting Thaksin.

"I want Thaksin back," he said. "Thaksin is smarter, better in economics. In the past I had voted for Democrats but this time I changed my mind. It's time to change."

(Compiled by


Earlier report:

The PPP has taken 220 of the 400 seats in constituency voting, and has won 35 of the 80 party-list seats.

If those results are confirmed in official vote-counting Sunday night and Monday, the People Power party would easily capture more than the 241 seats needed to form a government itself - with no need of a coalition.

Observers cautioned there are several roadblocks ahead, even after final vote-counting is confirmed. For one thing, there are dozens of challenges alleging vote fraud, many against PPP candidates.

It must be stressed the results are unofficial, and based on a combination of exit polls and early vote results trickling in as reported by news media at polling stations.

Although Bangkok media agreed that early counting gave the PPP an outright majority, pollsters who conducted exit polls after the Sunday voting showed slight but important differences.

A Dusit Poll for Bangkok's Suan Dusit Rajabhat University forecast that PPP had won a majority of 256 seats, compared to 162 for the rival Democrat Party. However, Abac Poll of Assumption University said its survey showed PPP had won 202 seats, falling short of an outright majority, with the Democrats taking 146.

An Election Commission official told the Associated Press that with 40 per cent of the vote counted, the pro-Thaksin PPP has won 229 seats. The EC vote is official, but the agency has not actually released any final results.

Here are the figures as of 6.30pm (1130 GMT).

The constituency candidacy (total 400 seats) throughout Thailand.

People Power party: 220 seats

Democrat: 162 seats

Chart Thai: 40 seats

Puea Pandin: 30 seats

Ruamjaithai Chartpattana: 13 seats

Matchimathipataya: 10 seats

Pracharaj: 5 seats

Unofficial results of the party-list candidacy (total 80 seats)

People Power party: 34 seats

Democrat: 33 seats

Chart Thai: 4 seats

Puea Pandin: 7 seats

Ruamjaithai Chartpattana: 1 seat

Militants set four South schools ablaze


Militants set four South schools ablaze


Insurgents burned down four schools in Pattani and Yala provinces Tuesday and yesterday in what authorities believe were revenge attacks for the killing of three key rebel suspects by state security forces last Friday. Three soldiers were also shot dead in insurgent attacks yesterday.

A building of Ban Tasa school in Muang district of Yala was set aflame yesterday. The fire destroyed five classrooms, a library and a computer room.

The arsonists broke one classroom window to get into the building, poured petrol on learning materials and set fire to them to start the blaze, police said.

''The school has intensive security measures in place but the arsonists managed to find our weak spot,'' said the province's education zone 1 director Atasit Ratanaklaw.

The total damage was put at more than three million baht, including student savings kept at the building under a course on the sufficiency economy which were destroyed by fire.

Police believed the attack was carried out in revenge for the deaths of three key rebels who were killed in a gunfight with security troops last Friday.

Ban Chamao Samton school in Pattani's Sai Buri district also fell victim to another group of arsonists yesterday.

Police said the attack was apparently made in retaliation against the temporary siege of Ban Chamao Samton village by security officers hunting for suspected militants.

On Tuesday, two schools and a bus stop shelter were also set alight in separate attacks in Pattani's Panare district, police said.

Two classrooms at Ban Nam Bor school were destroyed, while a fire at Ban Tro Hak school burned down one classroom.

Also in Pattani, three soldiers were shot dead yesterday morning while standing guard at a school in Kapho district.

Meanwhile, some 200 government troops raided a village in Nong Chik district where rebels were believed to have gone into hiding after they ambushed a group of policemen returning from security duty at a polling station on Sunday. Twenty-four suspects were rounded up for questioning.

In Narathiwat, village defence volunteer Mueyoh Hama, 49, was killed in a drive-by shooting yesterday as he was returning to his home in Sungai Padi district from Malaysia.

In the same province, police yesterday took Niloh Nomae, a suspected member of the Runda Kumpulan Kecil (RKK) separatist group, to re-enact the crimes he was alleged to have committed at 13 different locations.

Police said the suspect and his accomplices had planted bombs and murdered many state officials and civilians over the past two years.

A few votes short

A few votes short

The People Power Party (PPP), whose main platform has been its support for ousted Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra, has emerged the winner of weekend polls, election officials said Monday after finishing the final vote tally in the first election held since last year's coup.

NOTE : For final party vote tally in Sunday election, click here

The PPP came nine seats shy of a majority in parliament, winning 232 of the 480 seats contested in Sunday's election, said Election Commission Secretary General Suthipol Thaveechaikarn.

About 32.08 million Thais, or 70.27 per cent of eligible voters, cast ballots, he said.

Although it was the final count, it was not the final outcome because the Election Commission must still investigate various charges of election fraud and might be forced to hold a by-election for red-carded candidates.

The United States immediately welcomed the vote.

"The Thai people turned out at the polls to show their support for a return to an elected government accountable to the citizens," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington.

"We call on all sides to respect the results," he added.

PPP leader Samak Sundaravej, a 72-year-old veteran of Thailand's political scene, said Sunday night that he would be the country's next prime minister and would approach other parties to form a coalition government before parliament reconvenes in 30 days, as required by the constitution.

Samak said at a press conference that the support for the PPP was a statement on the military's September 19, 2006, coup, which toppled Thaksin and installed an appointed cabinet of technocrats.

"The coup is dead," Samak said. "Now the people have had their say. The numbers that came out are an answer to those people," he said, referring to the military.

It remained to be seen whether a coalition government under the PPP could be born, analysts said.

The PPP's main rival, the Democrat Party, has already announced that it would not join the PPP in a coalition but would become the opposition if it fails to lead a government.

The Democrat Party won 165 seats and dominated the results in Bangkok, where it won 27 of the 36 contested seats. The PPP received the other nine Bangkok mandates.

Coming third was the Chart Thai Party with 37 seats, followed by the Peau Pandin Party with 25 seats. The other slates to win seats were Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana with nine, Machima Thipataya with seven and Pracharaj with five, according to the latest unofficial tally.

Although the PPP won the most seats, it would have a hard time mustering a coalition government, observers said.

"We have a clean winner but not a clear-cut outcome," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.

The Democrats did better than expected and won Bangkok's backing, deemed a crucial factor to any government's stability.

"The provinces elect governments, and Bangkok topples them," is an old Thai saying.

The Democrats also received strong support for their party-list candidates, winning 33 of the 80 contested party-list seats, compared with the PPP's 34.

"That means that many people split their vote, casting ballots for their preferred MPs [members of parliament] but voting for the Democrats as their favourite party," Thitinan said.

Samak would need to persuade the Chart Thai Party, run by Banharn Silpa-archa, to join him if the PPP is to muster a government, but Banharn has reportedly asked to become prime minister of such a coalition.

Thailand appeared to be heading for a weak coalition government that is not likely to last long, analysts said.

The PPP has campaigned on a platform of continuing the populist policies initiated by Thaksin during his two premierships from 2001 to 2006 and assuring a safe return for the billionaire politician, who has been in self-imposed exile since the coup.

Thaksin, a former telecommunications tycoon, reportedly moved from his mansion in London to his luxury apartment in Hong Kong to observe the election and hopes to return on February 14 to Thailand.

Exotic dishes threaten wildlife, says Surayud


Exotic dishes threaten wildlife, says Surayud


The country's wildlife population is in decline due to rising demand from restaurants serving ''exotic dishes'' and the illegal wildlife trade, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said yesterday. Speaking on National Wildlife Protection Day, Gen Surayud, a dedicated nature lover, urged the public to help save wildlife.

''The Wildlife Conservation and Protection Act has been enforced for over three decades, but few people care about wild animals now,'' he said.

''They still eat them, hunt them, and sell them for money.''

The populations of many wild animals were declining.

Reversing that trend would be a challenging task, particularly considering the difficulties of breeding programmes and shrinking wildlife habitats.

The country's forested areas have now shrunk from 60% of the land just a few decades ago to around 30% today.

The state's previous policy to give concessions to private logging firms to run timber businesses had led to massive deforestation.

The scheme was abolished in 1989.

Preserving the country's existing forested areas was vital in the battle to save Thailand's wild animals, Gen Surayud said.

State agencies should help farmers increase their productivity by teaching them farming techniques and transferring farm technology so they do not expand their farmland into the wild, he said.

Forest conservation will not only save wild animals, but also safeguard human beings from global warming, he said.

''Green areas will save our lives,'' he said.

Yongyuth Yuthawong, acting minister of natural resources and environment, said the ministry's wildlife protection and preservation campaign was a success.

He cited the rising number of wild tigers as an example.

The size of the tiger population living in Thailand's western forest complex was the world's second largest after India, he said, adding that an increasing number of tigers is a useful indicator to measure the health of other wildlife populations in the forests.

PPP 'will rule'

PPP 'will rule'

People Power party is confident it can form a coalition government from the plurality it won in Sunday's election, the PPP secretary general said on Monday.

Surapong Suebwonglee that the PPP would attract enough smaller parties to reach 280 to 290 seats, enough for it to form a coalition government in the 480-seat lower house of parliament.

He said the PPP would not reveal the names of the parties, but would rather wait until the voting results are confirmed by the Election Commission (EC) after Jan 3.

At the moment, the PPP promise is just talk. There is heavy resistance from several influential circles to the idea of a PPP-led government.

The party is being sharply challenged by the second-place Democrat Party, which has the confidence of the political establishment.

The EC will issue yellow or red cards later which can disqualify some winning candidates on electoral cheating allegations, which might alter the parties' positions, said Surapong.

Current election results, which will change as red cards are issued, showed that the PPP won 232 seats in the House of Representatives, while the Democrat Party won 165 seats.

They were followed by Chart Thai Party with 37 seats and the Puea Pandin Party was at fourth place with 25 seats.

Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana took nine seats, Machimatipataya captured seven and Pracharaj currently has five seats.

Lottery ticket vendors hope for a Samak government

Lottery ticket vendors hope for a Samak government

Former two- and three-digit lottery sellers have welcomed the People Power party's (PPP) victory in the Dec 23 election. Representatives Natthachai Natcharanusorn and Wanna Hokanya took flowers to PPP headquarters yesterday to congratulate them on their victory.

They told party deputy secretary-general Sukhumpong Ngonkham they wanted a PPP-led government, headed by Samak Sundaravej, to restart the two- and three-digit lottery as soon as possible.

They said that on Jan 4, lottery sellers nationwide will turn up at PPP headquarters again to give the party moral support.

Mr Sukhumpong said relaunching the two- and three-digit lottery was part of PPP's policy platform.

The lottery, started under the Thai Rak Thai government, was scrapped after the coup last year.

The Assets Scrutiny Committee found the lottery broke the Government Lottery Office (GLO) law because the government did not send the money earned from lottery sales to state coffers but directly allocated the money to support its ''populist'' policies.

The National Legislative Assembly has recently passed a new law allowing the GLO to relaunch the two- and three-digit lottery.

Meanwhile, a network of northern community liquor producers in Phayao will push the new government, whoever forms it, to overhaul liquor taxes.

Chavalit Horprasertwong, a technical adviser to the network, said the government should revamp taxes to ensure equity among liquor producers.

Mr Chavalit said taxes should be set according to the alcohol content in the liquor _ the higher the content, the higher the tax.

Liquor producers should also be taxed according to the volume of liquor they make. Those producing higher volumes should also pay higher taxes, he said.

The network will also encourage the government to change the way tax is imposed on community liquor producers.

It says the tax imposed on producers of community liquor who distribute liquor in their immediate neighbourhood should be lower than the tax on producers who distribute their community liquor in several areas.

Thaksin vows to return

Thaksin vows to return

Hong Kong - Ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra announced Tuesday that he would return to Thailand, possibly within weeks, after the victory of his allies in weekend elections.

Speaking at a press conference in Hong Kong, Thaksin said he would return to Thailand sometime between February and April, saying he wanted to return to politics but live as "a normal citizen."

The former prime minster, who was forced out of office by the military in September 2006, also said he would prove himself innocent of corruption charges laid against him by the military junta after he was deposed.

Thaksin, who has spent much of his time in Hong Kong since last year's coup, was speaking after the victory Sunday of the People Power Party in the first elections since the military takeover in Thailand.

The party won 232 of the 480 parliamentary seats up for grabs in the election, and its leader, Samak Sundaravej, said it would approach other parties to form a coalition government. (dpa)

Rulings to be sent to Council of State

EC to decide today on red-carding candidates

Rulings to be sent to Council of State


The Election Commission (EC) has only until today to issue red cards to errant winning candidates because of time constraints on the holding of by-elections. Election commissioner Sodsri Satayathum said yesterday decisions on red cards must be finalised today because the EC must send the decisions to the Council of State for consideration, which would take five working days.

Seeking the Council of State's opinion on winning candidates is compulsory, but the EC is not obligated to follow the council's suggestions.

The decision whether to issue winning candidates yellow cards, which allows them to contest the by-election, rests with the EC.

By-elections are set for Jan 13 and the EC does not have the luxury of time to hold a second round as it has to approve 95% of the 480 MPs within 30 days of election day, or by Jan 22.

The list must be sent to the Royal Household Bureau seven days prior to the opening of the parliamentary session. Parliament has to convene within 30 days of the election.

The EC considered 18 complaints yesterday leaving 19 more cases, EC chairman Apichart Sukhagganond said.

Of the 18 complaints considered, the EC decided to press charges in four cases and send a committee to investigate.

The first complaint was filed in Loei against three People Power party candidates for allegedly giving incentives with VCD and medical kits as evidence.

In the second case, three PPP candidates in Phetchabun were charged with giving money to voters and compiling a list of voters for the purpose of vote buying.

In the third case, Anchalee Wanish, a Democrat executive and the Phuket Provincial Administration Organisation (PAO) chief, was charged with holding parties, vote buying and unfair use of power.

Thirteen cases were rejected including seven complaints against the PPP, one against the PPP and Puea Pandin, two against Chart Thai, three against the Democrats and one case was removed.

Election commissioner Somchai Jungprasert said Tuesday's decision to yellow card three PPP candidates was not unanimous as he opposed the ruling.

Prasert Chantraruangthong, Linda Cherdchai and Boonlert Krutkhuntod, who won in Nakhon Ratchasima's constituency 3, were yellow-carded after they were caught with cash and a list of eligible voters.

A complaint was also yesterday lodged with Khon Kaen police against PPP candidate Nawat Tocharoensuk for falsely advertising his education credentials.

Mr Nawat emerged as the first winner in constituency 1, which denied Puea Pandin leader Suvit Khunkitti a seat.

Thaksin makes Hong Kong his base for comeback

Thaksin makes Hong Kong his base for comeback

Hong Kong (dpa)

Ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra is to make Hong Kong his Asian base as he plots a triumphant return to Thailand, a news report said Wednesday.

Thaksin, who hosted a press conference in Hong Kong Tuesday, will divide his time between the former British colony and the UK before making his return to Thailand, the South China Morning Post reported.

Quoting friends, the newspaper said Thaksin considered Hong Kong a natural base, because of its "basic freedoms and commercial set-up and strong links to Thailand."

Thaksin, who was forced out of office by the military in September 2006, spent the weekend in Hong Kong monitoring the Thai election results which resulted in big wins for his allies in the People Power Party, the newspaper said.

At a press conference Tuesday, Thaksin announced he would return to Thailand sometime between February and April, saying he wanted to live as "a normal citizen."

While he insisted he did not want to resume his political career, he hinted at a return to politics, telling reporters he would consider acting as an advisor to the People Power Party if invited.

Thaksin also said he would prove himself innocent of corruption charges laid against him by the military junta and the courts after he was deposed.

Members of the Thai military and bureaucracy behind the ousting of Thaksin, and the subsequent legal action, are widely reported to be nervously awaiting the arrival of the notoriously thin-skinned and vindictive tycoon-turned-politician.

PPP split over Chart Thai

PPP split over Chart Thai


The People Power party (PPP) is divided over whether it should try to bring Chart Thai into its planned coalition government, following its apparent success in getting Puea Pandin. Key PPP figure Newin Chidchob believes Chart Thai is now dispensable.

Secretary-general Surapong Suebwonglee announced on Tuesday that the Pracharaj and Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana parties had decided to join the PPP in forming a coalition government.

The addition of Puea Pandin would give the alliance 278 seats, which Mr Newin feels is enough to ensure the stability of the new government, a PPP source said.

But party leader Samak Sundaravej wants Chart Thai in the coalition. He had planned to lunch with Chart Thai members yesterday, but the meeting was cancelled, the source said.

PPP spokesman Kuthep Saikrachang said he believed the party needed Chart Thai in addition to Puea Pandin but that there were reasons why that might not happen.

''One main reason is a past agreement under which Chart Thai committed itself to the Democrats.

''But on the other hand they need a clear answer on which aspects of government they would supervise if they join the coalition,'' he said.

''This is normal and such negotiations take time,'' Mr Kuthep added.

But a source at Chart Thai argued the PPP still needed Mr Banharn's party.

Despite being mentioned as part of the PPP effort, Matchimathipataya and Puea Pandin said they would wait for the official election results, due on Jan 3, before making a decision.

Matchimathipataya secretary-general Anongwan Thepsuthin said she had taken control of negotiations from party leader Prachai Leophairatana, who failed to get a seat in the proportional representation contest.

Concrete negotiations would have to wait until the announcement of official poll results, she said.

Deputy party leader Thanaporn Sriyakul said Mr Prachai had no authority to negotiate with other parties because he had already resigned the leadership and party membership.

Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana leader Gen Chettha Thanajaro said the PPP had approached his party, but he would wait for the official poll results.

Puea Pandin deputy leader Jirayu Wasurat said the party would be ready to start negotiations when the election outcome was confirmed.

But a PPP source insisted Ruam Jai Thai and Puea Pandin were just trying to increase their bargaining power. They had already confirmed their participation in the PPP's bid to form a coalition, the source said.

Three years after the tsunami

Three years after the tsunami

Thai News Agency, dpa

Thailand and Southeast Asian neighbours wracked by the tsunami three years ago marked the anniversary Wednesday with thousands of ceremonies, commemorations - and more preventative exercises.

At least 250,000 lives were estimated to have been lost in the Indian Ocean tsunami, with Indonesia, the Maldives and Sri Lanka the worst-hit.

Public and private sectors held a tsunami remembrance ceremony to mark the third anniversary of the December 26 disaster that hit Thailand's six Andaman coastal provinces killing more than 5,000 persons three years ago

Phuket deputy governor Tri Akkaradecha presided at a ceremony marking the disaster and paid tribute to the victims of the giant tidal waves that hit the southern provinces on Boxing Day.

The ceremony was held at Loma Park of Patong Beach, Kratu district and families of the victims and tourists attended the rite.

At Mai Khao Cemetery in Thalang district, where unidentified bodies are being kept, religious ceremonies – Buddhist, Christian and Muslim -- were held.

Thailand's six Andaman coastal provinces -- Phang-nga, Krabi, Phuket, Ranong, Trang and Satun -- were hit by the unprecedented tsunami of Dec 26, 2004, with over 5,000 local residents as well as Thai and foreign holidaymakers losing their lives in the tidal waves.

During the evening, a "Light Up Phuket" activity will be held to let the victims relatives and general public to join the candle-lit ceremony to pay tribute to the dead and other victims.

Meanwhile, the ceremonies in Phang-nga were held in three locations in the morning: at the grounded police patrol vessel Tor 813 at Tambon Kikkak in Takua Pa district, in Ban Nam Khem Tsunami Memorial Park, and Bang Maruan Cemetery for the unidentified victims.

Wednesday evening, religious services will take place at Chong Fah Beach, Bang Niang in Takua Pa district and Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya will preside.

Prime Minister Gen. Surayud Chulanont and ambassadors accredited to Thailand were scheduled to join the ceremony.

An exhibition commemorating the life of Khun Poom Jensen, son of Princess Ubolratana, eldest daughter of His Majesty the King is also being held.

In addition to memorial services, Krabi and Phuket will present an exhibition to educate the public regarding the tsunami.

In Indonesia's Aceh province on the northern end of Sumatra, where more than 170,000 were either dead or missing when a massive 9.0- magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami on December 26, 2004, hundreds of survivors prayed at mass graves and mosques.

A safety drill to test emergency relief teams meanwhile went ahead in West Java's Banten province watched by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and other high-ranking government officials.

These responded to a mock chemical leak in a factory if an 8.5 magnitude quake were to hit the area. The warning system was set up after villages were pulverised along Indian Ocean shores, killing or leaving missing about 230,000 people.

In an attempt to improve the alert system, the government planned to set up 11 buoys around the country in 2008 to detect high waves triggered from undersea quakes, Antara news agency quoted officials as saying.

In India - where some 4,000 are still counted as missing and where official figures say 12,405 people lost their lives in the coastal districts of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh - prayer meetings and candle-light vigils went ahead.

Thousands of survivors still await permanent shelters promised in the regions by the government.

Candle-light marches and prayers at the graves of victims were held in Tamil Nadu, while fishermen stayed away from the sea as a mark of mourning.

More than 600,000 people were rendered homeless by the tidal wave that destroyed or damaged an estimated 100,000 homes in India.

In Sri Lanka, where the tsunami claimed more than 40,000 lives, there were more solemn religious ceremonies and alms-giving to invoke blessings on those who perished.

President Mahinda Rajapakasa presided over a ceremony to remember those killed in Matara, 160 kilometres south of the capital. The memorial coincided with the opening of a bridge donated by the South Korean government.

Small religious ceremonies and alms giving were held in almost all coastal areas hit by the devastating waves.

The ceremonies came as the government continued to grapple with rehabilitation and resettlement programmes and to provide housing facilities to more than 117,000 families.

Nearly 20,000 people still need permanent homes and continue to live in temporary houses.

Sri Lanka had estimated that 117,483 houses were needed for those hit by the tsunami, but only 97,692 houses have been completed, according to the Ministry of Nation Building which oversees tsunami housing projects.