Thai PM cancels US trip amid flood crisis

 

Thailand's prime minister has cancelled plans to attend a Pacific trade forum in Hawaii this weekend as she struggles to cope with her country's worst flooding for half a 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 floodwater there has 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 government's inefficiency in countering 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.

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

It would have given novice politician Ms Yingluck diplomatic experience, but could also have exposed her to criticism of ignoring flooding at home where her rivals are keen to exploit any problems due to the waters.

She 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 2007 after being accused of corruption and abuse of power.

Ms Yingluck had already cancelled a trip to China last month because of the flood crisis.

Her energy minister said the flood crisis in Bangkok is likely to drag on for another month, as authorities issued another evacuation warning in a northern neighbourhood and floodwater inched further into the city's heart.

Energy Minister Pichai Naripthaphan said, however, that floods may finally begin to subside in the capital by mid-November, according to a government statement late yesterday.

Top officials and experts have given varying estimates of how much Bangkok would flood and how long the threat would loom over the city, with some claiming several weeks ago the biggest window of danger to the sprawling metropolis had already passed.

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

Evacuations have been ordered in 12 of Bangkok's 50 districts, with residents of the northern district of Klong Sam Wa told to leave yesterday. The evacuations, which also affect parts of several other districts, are not mandatory, and many people are staying to protect homes and businesses.

Today, Football Federation Australia said a World Cup qualifier against Thailand scheduled for next week had been moved to a smaller stadium in Bangkok because the original venue is being used as a flood evacuation centre.

Meanwhile, clean-ups have begun in provinces to the north, including Nakorn Sawan and Ayutthaya, site of Thailand's ancient capital. The prime minister planned to visit Ayutthaya later today to witness recovery efforts.

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