Friday, June 14, 2024
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Some success in Thai flood relief, but Bangkok tense

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BANGKOK: Thailand reported progress in diverting floodwater round its capital into the sea on Friday but the prime minister instructed troops to protect key buildings as her government struggled to contain the worst flooding in 50 years.

After trying to hold the line for a week, the government opened some canals on Thursday to allow water to run through the inner city, carrying the risk of inundating some districts but relieving pressure on dikes.

But the danger was far from over, with heavy rain forecast next week, raising the risk of an intensification of a crisis that has killed at least 342 people since July and devastated industrialised areas to the north of Bangkok.

The floods are the first real test for the politically inexperienced prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, whose government has had to form uneasy alliances with the military and political rivals to coordinate the relief effort.

The problem was building even before she took office in early August and looks set to cost industry more than $3 billion, slashing economic growth this year. The 44-year-old businesswoman is resisting calls to declare a state of emergency, which would mean deploying the army on the streets.

Yingluck opted instead to invoke a disaster law to grant her executive powers over state agencies and the military, arguing that a declaration of a state of emergency would be alarming and excessive. ”It would ruin investors’ confidence, which is quite weak already,” Yingluck told reporters at the crisis centre. ”At this moment we can see that we (the government and the people) are cooperating very well to help us get through the problem. If I declare a state of emergency, I would be telling the world that we can’t help each other.” She ordered the military to protect the city’s two international airports, power plants, the water authority and royal buildings and ordered the transport ministry to handle traffic on Bangkok’s normally chaotic, clogged roads to aid the delivery of food and water supplies.

Banks and offices in Bangkok’s business districts were piling up sandbags in case canals burst.

”If the floodwater reaches Bangkok, we’re looking at 5 to 10 times the damage we’ve already seen,” Bangkok Bank’s executive vice-president, Bhakorn Vanuptikul, told Reuters outside his bank’s fortified headquarters in the central business district.

”The damage would be immeasurable because of the disruption to people’s lives. That’s why we’re trying to continue operating.” (Agencies)

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