Saturday, January 05, 2008

Kingdom mourns


Kingdom mourns

The nation is mourning the death of Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana, who passed away in the early hours of Wednesday after a long battle with abdominal cancer. She was 84.

A statement by the Royal Household Bureau said the Princess passed away at 2.54am at Siriraj hospital, where she had been receiving treatment for the last six months.

His Majesty the King and members of the Royal Family were at her side.

Thirawat Kullanant, dean of the hospital's faculty of medicine, said the Princess passed away peacefully. He said she had a strong spirit and had strictly followed the doctors' advice.

"We feel profound sorrow at her passing. We did not feel weary throughout the treatment process and we are deeply grateful for Their Majesties' kindness," he said.

The Princess' condition deteriorated sharply on Tuesday night. The Royal Household Bureau's 38th statement said her breathing was weaker, her kidneys had stopped functioning and she was unresponsive.

The King has declared a 100-day mourning period for members of the Royal Family and palace officials. The government has announced a 15-day mourning period for government and state enterprise officials. Government agencies, Thai embassies and consulates, and educational institutes across the country will fly their flags at half-mast for 15 days.


People who make hoax calls will face fine

A new law, soon to be enforced, should make pranksters think twice before making hoax calls to emergency hotlines. People who make such hoax calls, if caught, face a 5,000-baht fine when a law on emergency medical services, proposed by the Public Health Ministry comes into effect.

The legislation was passed by the National Legislative Assembly on Dec 21, said Dr Surachet Sathitniramai, head of the Narenthorn Emergency Response Centre. It is expected to receive royal endorsement and take effect in March.

Devices are being installed at the Narenthorn centre to log all incoming phone calls so staff can trace the callers.


PPP wants control of five key ministries

A coalition government led by the People Power party (PPP) is beginning to take shape, with the party seeking to monopolise economic portfolios.

PPP secretary-general Surapong Suebwonglee said the party is eyeing the ministries of Finance, Commerce, Agriculture and Cooperatives, Transport, and Tourism and Sports.

Mr Surapong said he has also approached two old hands, Virabongsa Ramakura and Thanong Bidaya, to join the economic team.

The PPP also wants to oversee the Defence and Interior ministries, said the PPP secretary-general. Other portfolios the party wants to supervise are Public Health, Education, and Information Communications and Technology.

The other cabinet posts would be discussed with coalition partners, he said.


Inquiry sought into Paiboon, Poldej

Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont has been urged to investigate Social Development and Human Security Minister Paiboon Wattanasiritham and his deputy Poldej Pinprateep for making public the adultery allegation made against a high-ranking ministry official. The prime minister on Wednesday received a petition from three unidentified people claiming to be social development ministry officials. They said the incident had tarnished the reputation of the ministry and that the minister and his deputy had ulterior motives for making public the allegations.

The officials submitted the petition to Gen Surayud through the cabinet secretary.

They asked the prime minister to review his decision to transfer Wallop Ploytubtim, permanent secretary of the Social Development and Human Security Ministry, to an inactive post over claims of malfeasance and alleged adultery. Gen Surayud transferred Mr Wallop to an inactive post on Dec 26.

The petitioners distributed copies of the letter to Government House reporters before leaving in a van. In their letter, the three officials said there were no damaged parties in the alleged adultery and the complaints against Mr Wallop were anonymous. Mr Wallop has also said his transfer was unfair and he would complain to the Civil Service Commission and file an action against the transfer order with the Administrative Court.


PPP hopes hanging by a thread

Plans to set up a coalition government led by the People Power Party (PPP) are in question after the Supreme Court's Election Section agreed to rule on whether the PPP is a nominee of the dissolved Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party.

The court has decided to consider all four points in a petition lodged by Democrat candidate Chaiwat Sinsuwong. The first hearing is scheduled for Jan 15.

Mr Chaiwat has accused the PPP of being a nominee of the TRT, which was dissolved last year by the Constitution Tribunal.

He has also demanded that advance votes on Dec 15-16 and the Dec 23 polls be nullified.

In the petition, he has asked the court to rule whether the PPP was qualified to field candidates in the Dec 23 general election, if its leader Samak Sundaravej was eligible to endorse party candidates, if advance votes on Dec 15-16 and the Dec 23 polls were valid and if the distribution of VCDs of deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra were illegal.


Conservatory to be built in Princess' honour

A conservatory of classical music will be built in honour of HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana and will be named after her, Culture Minister Khunying Khaisri Sri-aroon said Thursday.

The ministry received approval from the cabinet on Dec 25 to begin work on the project as a tribute to the Princess, who was known for her passion for western classical music.

The designated site for the conservatory is land overlooking the Chao Phraya river near the Rama VIII bridge. Owned by the Industry Ministry, the 14-rai plot once served as the Bang Yi Khan whiskey distillery.



Malaysian minister quits over sex DVDs

Malaysian Health Minister Chua Soi Lek has announced his resignation after admitting being filmed in a sex video.

The widely circulated recording showed the married father of three having sex with a female friend in a hotel room.

On Tuesday, amid mounting speculation, he shocked the nation by admitting to being the man featured on the DVD.

This is the latest in a series of problems for PM Abdullah Badawi, who is expected to call an election in the coming weeks. According to Malaysia's Star newspaper, the DVDs are believed to be CCTV recordings made in a hotel suite. The hotel and the date are unknown.

Copies were randomly left at various locations in Mr Chua's home state of Johor, on Saturday "for people to pick up".

Mr Chua made his admission on Tuesday, hours after the Star reported that the DVDs were being widely distributed in Johor, his home state.

"I am the man in the tape," Mr Chua, 60, told reporters. "The girl is a personal friend."

"I would like to emphasise I did not make the tape myself," he added.


Deep Impact spacecraft zips past Earth

Nasa's comet-busting spacecraft is on its way to rendezvous with another comet in an extended mission that will also hunt for Earth-sized planets around a cluster of stars.

The Deep Impact probe zipped past Earth on Monday, the first of three flybys designed to use the planet's gravity to hurtle the spacecraft toward comet Hartley 2 for a 2010 meeting.

Last week, engineers calibrated the instruments aboard the spacecraft using the moon as a target in advance of the flyby, which occurred as planned, said William Blume of Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

At closest approach the spacecraft was 10,000 miles above Australia.


UK and US 'keenest on fast food'

Many blame the widespread availability of fast food for rising levels of obesity

The UK is the country most attached to fast food, closely followed by the United States, a survey has suggested.

A poll of 9,000 people in 13 nations, alongside a BBC investigation into global obesity, found vast variations in attitudes towards food and weight.

Many French people get on the scales every day the poll found, while Singaporeans are the least likely to weigh themselves.

People are now said to be getting fatter in most of the world, with the exception of parts of Asia.

The three-day BBC series looks at the problems arising from the trend and what can be done about it.

The market research firm Synovate also questioned 9,000 people in 13 countries across five continents.

The results of this study indicate that few people blame their governments for rising levels of obesity.

The largest number of respondents blamed the food that was now available.

People in the UK and the US were the most likely to nominate "no self discipline" as the leading factor in obesity.

These two nations also had the most respondents who said they would be unable to give up fast food.


Britain to help probe Bhutto killing

President Pervez Musharraf announced Wednesday that Scotland Yard will help investigate the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. The announcement was a reversal of an initial rejection of foreign help after he came under pressure to allow a UN probe.

Authorities also pushed back parliamentary elections until Feb 18, a six-week delay prompted by the rioting that followed the opposition leader's death. Opposition parties condemned the delay but still plan to take part in the elections, seen as a key step in bringing democracy to Pakistan after years of military rule.

Both developments could ease the turmoil that has gripped Pakistan since Mrs Bhutto's slaying in a gun and suicide bomb attack on Dec 27, which plunged the nation deeper into political crisis as it struggles to contain an explosion of Islamic militant violence.

The government declared just one day after the attack on Mrs Bhutto that an al-Qaeda-linked militant orchestrated the killing and aired video footage. But the hasty accusation only served to cast doubt over the government's account of exactly how she died.

The government has also come under sharp criticism for its security arrangements for Mrs Bhutto, who had claimed elements in the ruling party were trying to kill her.

Mr Musharraf, a former army chief who seized power in a 1999 coup, has rejected accusations that a security lapse led to Mrs Bhutto's killing and suggested she was partly at fault because she poked her head out of her bombproof vehicle's sunroof after an election rally despite threats by Islamic extremists.


Sri Lanka pulls out of cease-fire deal

Sri Lanka's government officially notified peace-broker Norway on Thursday that it is pulling out of a 2002 cease-fire agreement with Tamil Tiger rebels that has failed to quell the violence.

Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama handed a letter to Norwegian Ambassador Tore Hattrem, saying the government has decided to terminate the Norway-brokered agreement, a Foreign Ministry statement said.

The government has said growing violence in the last two years has rendered the agreement irrelevant.

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