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The Bangkok Transit System Company is to be paid 190 billion baht by City Hall to operate the skytrain system until 2042.

People crowd the skytrain during the rush hour yesterday. With the number of passengers soon expected to exceed 500,000 a day, City Hall yesterday signed a contract with Bangkok Transit System Company to operate the skytrain for another 30 years. PATTANAPONG HIRUNARD

Under the contract signed with Krungthep Thanakhom, the business arm of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, BTSC will be the sole operator of the current routes and three extension routes for 30 years.

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Illegal shipping agents have used the names of shipping companies with good credit to buy and import cold tablets containing the stimulant pseudoephedrine, the Department of Special Investigation has found.

DSI deputy chief Sansern Palawatwichai yesterday said the Suvarnabhumi airport cargo warehouse contained pseudoephedrine-based cold pills imported by both legal shipping companies and illegal shipping agents.

He was speaking after an inspection of customs procedures at the airport to seek information on the import of the cold pills. The airport's customs unit gave him the information.

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Lack of greenery and poor urban planning pump up the mercury

Five months after the worst floods in half a century, Bangkok is facing a near-record heatwave with temperatures at three-decade highs, stoking a debate over the often chaotic urban planning in one of Asia's hottest and largest cities.

Elephants at Dusit Zoo eat blocks of ice given to them by zoo keepers to try to ease their stress in the hot weather. TAWATCHAI KEMGUMNERD.

The average daily maximum temperature in Bangkok in April was 40.1C, the Meteorological Department says, prompting warnings from authorities for residents to be on alert for heat-related ailments.

Critics say the heat has been exacerbated by poor urban planning in the fast-growing city of 12 million people - from a thinning of trees by city workers, often to accommodate electrical power lines, to heat-trapping building designs and a relatively small number of parks.

"It is a factor," said Prawit Jampanya, director of the Central Weather Forecast Division at the Meteorological Department, referring to the role the lack of green spaces plays in trapping Bangkok's mercury-pumping heat.

"Having trees does help to relieve poor air quality and urban heat traps."

Though a tropical city, Bangkok has fewer trees and green spaces in proportion to its population than other Asian city. An Asian Green City Index of 22 cities released last year by the Economist Intelligence Unit put Bangkok's green spaces at 3 square metres per person in the metropolitan area.

That is well below the index average of 39 sq m and contrasts with Singapore, which has 66 sq m of green space per person.

Urban planning in Bangkok can seem arbitrary - from chronic congestion on main roads to obstructed or non-existent pavements and poorly enforced zoning laws that allow homes and apartment buildings next to office towers and shopping malls.

Authorities hope to bring some order to the city with a new urban plan that takes effect from May next year.

Chalermwat Tantasavasdi, associate dean at the faculty of architecture and planning at Thammasat University, says Bangkok's heat is made worse by outdated building designs that lack the proper insulation needed to keep buildings cool, leading to a rise in energy consumption.

The heat coincides with drought in 50 out of Thailand's 77 provinces, plus an increase in man-made and natural fires, just months after the worst floods in more than 50 years.

Businesses report surging sales of air conditioners, sun screen and other cooling products.

Humans aren't the only ones suffering from Bangkok's heat. "Because of the heat, we have had to put in place cooling measures for the animals," says Waraporn Gunton at Dusit Zoo.

A boy splashes his face with water near Sanam Luang as the Meteorological Department reported the average daily maximum temperature in Bangkok last month was 40.1C. APICHART JINAKUL

Measures have included mixing ice with animal food and watering some of the animals down with sprinklers.

The Meteorological Department yesterday projected the temperature will cool down when the rainy season arrives next week.

Department deputy director-general Somchai Baimuang said that a southwesterly wind prevailing over the Andaman Sea will bring more rain across the country, including Bangkok.

By mid-May, the country can expect thunderstorms and the heat will begin to ease, he added.

To combat the rising summer temperature and an increasing number of hot days, creating more green areas has long been a flagship policy of many Bangkok governors, including current governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra.

City Hall, under the helm of MR Sukhumbhand, aims to create another 5,000 rai of green areas.

According to the "Bangkok State of the Environment Report 2010-2011", commissioned by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration's environment department, City Hall was successful in increasing the area of public parks in the capital by about 1,260 rai last year.

According to the report, Bangkok has 5,687 public parks with a total area of 15,840 rai.

The department claimed that Bangkok has an average of 4.44 sq m of green area per person. The figure is, however, inconsistent with the 3 sq m calculated by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Apart from increasing the number of public parks, the BMA has also vowed to plant more trees along the roads under a scheme to revitalise Bangkok. The scheme is based on the concept of turning Bangkok into a green city.

MR Sukhumbhand's four-year term will end early next year and it remains to be seen if his attempts to green the city will help combat the summer heat.

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Delays in strengthening the country's laws against money laundering and terrorist financing activities have had a direct impact on international business and could undermine plans to link the Asean capital markets later this year, business leaders say.

Twatchai Yongkittikul, the secretary-general of the Thai Bankers' Association, said European financial institutions have already begun rejecting financial transactions with Thai parties due to perceived risks.

In February, the international Financial Action Task Force (FATF) named Thailand as one of 15 countries designated ''high risk'' due to the failure of parliament to enact tougher laws against money laundering and terrorist financing.

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Government supporters in red-shirt villages in the Northeast have voiced their grievances about the higher cost of living and complain none of the benefits of the populist policies have come their way yet.

Tai Tippachorn (Photos by Piyabut Phoklang)

Tai Tippachorn, 44, chairwoman of the red-shirt Ban Kok Klang Village Committee in Sakhon Nakhon's Tao Ngoi, said the people there felt abandoned and neglected. They were waiting for the trickled-down effects of the Yingluck Shinawatra government's populism policies that for some reason had not reached the grassroots people yet.

"All the remedies and hand-outs are for the urbanites, while the rural people do not get anything.

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The government has accused Cambodia of deliberately placing landmines along the Thai-Cambodian border after a Thai soldier was badly injured by one of the devices on Wednesday.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongphakdi expressed disappointment over the incident as relations between the two countries had improved recently.

"This was clearly in violation of Thai sovereignty and seriously injured a Thai soldier," Mr Thani said.

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The Bangkok Transit System Company is to be paid 190 billion baht by City Hall to operate the skytrain system until 2042.

People crowd the skytrain during the rush hour yesterday. With the number of passengers soon expected to exceed 500,000 a day, City Hall yesterday signed a contract with Bangkok Transit System Company to operate the skytrain for another 30 years. PATTANAPONG HIRUNARD

Under the contract signed with Krungthep Thanakhom, the business arm of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, BTSC will be the sole operator of the current routes and three extension routes for 30 years.

...
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Asif Ahmad says that a reluctance to accept assistance _ uncommon among most disaster-hit countries _ as well as poor communication of information to the public hurt efforts to bring relief to those affected by the deluge

British ambassador Asif Ahmad has offered a forthright critique of the government's handling of last year's flood crisis, saying it should have asked for international help and better communicated information to the public.

FRIENDLY ADVICE: British Ambassador Asif Ahmad. PHOTO: PATIPAT JANTHONG

Mr Ahmad said the international community faced difficulties in providing assistance to foreign nationals in Thailand during the flood crisis from July to January, even though asking for foreign help is normal practice during a major crisis.

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SPECIAL REPORT: Business leaders are worried that the rising cost of energy, labour could put upward pressure on inflation and hit consumer spending,

Think prices for food and fuel are high already? Even worse may yet come, argue some business leaders and economists.

Shoppers compare the price of rice at a hypermarket in Bangkok. PATIPATJANTHONG

While inflation, as measured by the consumer price index, stood at a moderate 3.4% last month compared with the year before, the numbers belie a rising sense of discontent that costs have spiralled in recent weeks.

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I went to the Mae Wong National Park in Nakhon Sawan about a year ago. I can still remember the cool breeze, fresh air and the vast tracts of lush green forest there. I dipped myself in a small creek to enjoy the cool and crystal-clear flow of water. I remembered watching the sunset at Chong Yen, one of the park's most popular camping grounds.

This place is heaven on earth.

The 894-square kilometre national park, about 370km from Bangkok, is not only a perfect holiday destination for city people like me. Mae Wong is also one of Thailand's most pristine forests, the headwater of rivers and streams, and a home to many rare wildlife species _ tigers, wild elephants, hornbills, peacocks, wild elephants and gaurs.

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