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Thailand's leader cancels APEC visit to deal with flooding

By Grant Peck

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 05:13 a.m. HST, Nov 08, 2011


BANGKOK >> Thailand's prime minister canceled plans to attend a Pacific trade forum in Hawaii this weekend as she struggled to cope with her country's worst flooding in a half century.

The flooding began in late July and has killed 527 people, mostly by drowning. Some provinces north of Bangkok have been inundated for more than a month, although floodwaters there have started to recede in recent days as massive pools of runoff flow south.

The water has inexorably made its way into Bangkok, causing distress among the capital's more than 9 million inhabitants and heightening criticism of the government's inefficiency in battling the problem.

"Now it's time for all Thai people to help each other, so I've informed (the host) that I would not go," Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said Tuesday.

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, hosted by President Barack Obama, will bring together 21 leaders, including Chinese President Hu Jintao.

It would have given Yingluck an opportunity as a novice politician to gain diplomatic luster, but also could have opened her to criticism of ignoring flooding at home where her political rivals are keen to exploit any problems due to the waters. She had already canceled a get-acquainted trip to China last month because of the flooding.

Yingluck came to office in August after a Pheu Thai party landslide, but is widely seen as a stand-in for her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a military coup in 2006 after being accused of corruption and abuse of power.

Yingluck on Tuesday announced a recovery plan including the creation of a team to coordinate water policy.

About a dozen separate agencies deal with different aspects of water management, with little consultation and no clear lines of authority, hindering both planning and response to crises.

Her government also reached out to Japanese businesses, who are major investors in the seven big industrial parks in and around Bangkok that have halted production because of the flooding. They had complained they were not properly informed of the threat of the floods.

Virabongse Ramangkura, who heads a new reconstruction committee, said he will consult in Tokyo with Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry on how to aid the stricken businesses.

Japan's ambassador later Tuesday accompanied Yingluck for an inspection tour to Ayutthaya, where several of the industrial estates are located and cleanups have begun.

Energy Minister Pichai Naripthaphan said late Monday that Bangkok's flood crisis is likely to drag on for another month, though the water may finally begin to subside in the capital by mid-November.

Top officials and experts have given varying estimates of how much and how long Bangkok will flood, with some saying several weeks ago that the biggest window of danger for the sprawling metropolis had already passed.

Instead, the flood threat has only intensified, straining sandbag-stacking residents as more and more neighborhoods are swamped each day. The seemingly unstoppable floodwaters have overwhelmed canals, seeped up through drains and poured down condominium-lined highways. The water has now begun surrounding the city's northernmost subway stops, threatening to shut them down.

Evacuations have been announced in 12 of Bangkok's 50 districts. The evacuations, which also affect parts of several other districts, are not mandatory, and many people are staying to protect homes and businesses.

___

Associated Press writers Vee Intarakratug and Pailin Wedel contributed to this report.






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