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Red Line deal inked; some Hopewell pillars to stay

Posted by Nuttapon_S On January - 31 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS
BANGKOK, Jan 31 – The State Railway of Thailand (SRT) today signed two deals, worth a combined Bt21 billion (US$700 million), to expand Bangkok’s  urban mass transit rail projects to the northern side of the city.
Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt presided over a ceremony to sign the agreements between the SRT and Italian-Thai Development Co.
The first deal covers a 21km rail system between Bang Sue and Rangsit (Red Line) and the construction of six stations, including Don Meuang, along the route. The second agreement involves construction of the foundations for future expansion of two major stations – Samien Naree and Lak Hok.
Construction will take three years and the Transport Ministry projects the Red Line to service 30,000-40,000 commuters per hour.
Half of the existing concrete pillars of the unfinished Hopewell rail link project will be useful as structures while substandard pillars will be demolished. The pillars lining Vibhavadi-Rangsit Road were abandoned for 15 years after the Thai subsidiary of Hong Kong-based Hopewell Holdings discontinued building the mega mass transit project.
Mr Chadchart said SRT retained consultants have pinpointed which pillars will be torn down and noted that the use of the remaining ones is not a breach of contract with the original contractor.
The minister said he has ordered the SRT to speed up construction of rail link stations at the Thammasat University Rangsit campus, Nava Nakhon industrial estate, Samien Naree and Lak Hok, and ensure that connections for passengers to the stations are convenient.
He said the original plan to integrate city rail links and high-speed rails could be impractical and a separate four-track system may be needed for a high-speed train.
Mr Chadchart  said private contractors in provinces along the high-speed rail line will be invited to join bids to build railway stations which can be expanded to include hotels and shopping complexes. (MCOT online news)

Yingluck stresses she’s real prime minister

Posted by Nuttapon_S On January - 31 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS
BANGKOK, Jan 31 – Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra today categorically denied an international  news report that her elder brother, ousted premier Thaksin, controls the cabinet remotely from abroad via various telecommunications channels.
The New York Times said Mr Thaksin, in self exile since 2008 and residing mostly in Dubai and London, has made important political decisions for the government via mobile phone and social media applications such as Skype, LINE and Whatsapp.
Ms Yingluck stood firm that she is the genuine prime minister of Thailand and that she and her cabinet jointly and clearly run the country.
“Opinion polls show that my leadership and recognition among the people has increased. I have successively proved myself in the past year. I’d rather have people judge me from my performance,” she said.
“I can’t stop people’s thinking but I believe lots of people are fair to me. What a working person wants is moral support.”
She described as groundless the report which said Mr Thaksin participated in some cabinet meetings and ordered ministers through Skype, saying the cabinet conferences are off limits to telephones. (MCOT online news)

Travelling back in time through Bangkok’s Chinatown

Posted by Rattana_S On January - 31 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

Perhaps one of the more bizarre scams in Bangkok involves gem hustlers telling tourists that the whole of Chinatown is shut down, in hopes that the more gullible travellers will visit a great little store they know of instead.

But this outlandish claim – that the lively, sprawling commercial and residential neighbourhood might be closed for the day – might not be far off. With the Bangkok subway extending into the heart of Chinatown in the next few years, with some work already underway, developers are keenly eyeing the area’s prime real estate. Already a few battle lines have been drawn between residents defending their historic trading spots and the developers who have turned much of the Thai capital into a never-ending line up of shopping malls.

If the alleys around Yaowarat and Charoen Krung roads – the main arteries of Chinatown – share the same fate as the rest of the city, it would be a great shame. For those who complain that Bangkok has lost its exotic flavour, Chinatown is the answer. While the rice fields of Sukhumvit – one of the longest roads in Bangkok and in the world – have been replaced by skyscrapers, luxury malls and entertainment plazas, Chinatown has cleaved stubbornly to its history and its identity, making it the most fascinating part of town to explore.

The first Chinese traders arrived in Thailand in the 16th Century, when the kingdom’s capital was still in the city of Ayutthaya, about 80km north of Bangkok. Famine and persecution of Teo Chew Chinese from the Chaozhou area in present-day China led to several waves of arrivals, who settled near the Chao Phraya River, which today slices through the west of the city. When the capital eventually shifted to Bangkok and the Grand Palace was built in 1782, the Chinese were requested to move outside the city walls. From this vantage point, they established what became the country’s commercial heart for the next two centuries.

Bangkok’s commerce and shopping centres have now shifted to the neighbourhoods of Siam, Sathorn and Sukhumvit, yet Chinatown remains a vibrant hub that still largely reflects what life was like in the 1960s, ‘50s and even the ‘20s.

Most of the wares being sold – car parts, cheap electronics, low-quality plastic toys from China – are not necessarily of interest to travellers. But unlike much of Bangkok, which is fully geared toward serving the needs of the city’s burgeoning tourist and expat population, Chinatown’s charm lies in the fact that, over here, it is not really about the traveller; Chinatown exists first and foremost for the Thai-Chinese.

The community rewards those who meander and observe. The pleasure of Chinatown is in taking a wrong turn and getting lost, ending up somewhere strange and unexpected.

Life goes on in Chinatown the way it has for decades. Bangkok’s oldest cinema, Sala Chalermkrung Royal Theatre was built in 1933 and still shows Thai movies on special occasions, although now it mostly stages dances and plays. Tang To Kang, the capital’s oldest gold shop, and Chao Krom Pho, the city’s oldest Chinese medicine store, are still doing business the way they did more than a century ago. Nearby Wat Chakrawat is known as the Crocodile Wat for good reason – the monks at this temple have been raising the reptiles for more than 200 years.

Aside from these landmarks, the area is also home to some of the city’s best food, with delicious scents from an unassuming curry stall mingling with the smells from the neighbouring Indian district, causing passers-by to perform double takes.

Shrines for the ancestor-worshipping Chinese pop up in unexpected corners – havens of reflective peace in the middle of chaotic streets. A favourite is located in the 100-year-old – and inappropriately named – Talat Mai (New Market). Smack in the middle of the cramped, packed stores hawking shark’s fins, bird’s nests, fossils, precious stones and sea slugs, a small gateway leads to the courtyard of the Leng Buai Ia shrine, where the noise of the outside bustle immediately falls away.

Asian shares pause from rally, euro stays firm

Posted by Rattana_S On January - 31 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

(Reuters) – Asian shares pulled back from recent rallies on Thursday but optimism about global growth supported sentiment as the Federal Reserve kept its stimulus policy, while the euro steadied on signs the region was stabilizing from the debt crisis.

The MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS inched down 0.1 percent after rising to nearly an 18-month high the previous session.

Australian shares .AXJO also edged down 0.1 percent, retreating from a 21-month high hit on Wednesday. The shares had gained for 10 straight days, the longest winning run since October 2003.

South Korean shares .KS11 opened down 0.2 percent and Japan’s benchmark Nikkei stock average .N225 also opened 0.5 percent lower after soaring 2.3 percent to a 33-month high the day before. .T

“The Nikkei is at a very high level. I think we will see some profit-taking in today’s market,” said Takashi Hiroki, chief strategist at Monex Inc.

The Fed on Wednesday kept its monthly bond-buying plan while indicating a recent stall in U.S. economic growth was likely temporary and predicting the nation’s job market would continue to improve at a modest pace. The Fed repeated a pledge to keep purchasing securities until the outlook for employment “improves substantially.

The statement preceded Friday’s monthly nonfarm payrolls data but followed a report showing the U.S. economy unexpectedly shrank in the fourth quarter for its first drop since the recession ended over three years ago, as inventory investment slowed and government spending plunged.

Analysts say, however, the private sector spending components such as personal consumption, business investment and housing were strong to underline a moderate recovery trend.

U.S. stocks pulled back after the Fed announcement in a move many saw as a reaction to gains in recent months, with the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index .SPX on track to post its best month since October 2011 and its best January since 1997.

European shares suffered their biggest daily drop this month after gloomy earnings and weak U.S. economic data hit sentiment, having touched 2-year highs earlier in the week.

EURO ADVANTAGE INTACT

The euro held near a 14-month high of $1.3588 scaled on Wednesday after the Fed pledged to keep its current bond-buying stimulus scheme.

Reports from the euro zone on Wednesday underscored views that the debt crisis-hit region may be overcoming the worst, with economic sentiment improving more than expected across all sectors in January and a gauge for the phase of the business cycle also rising this month.

“The rise in the EUR is a sign of the success of the European Central Bank on the credit front, which matters far more than a short term rise in EURUSD. Money is flowing into Europe and from North back to the South or from ECB funding to money market funding,” Sebastien Galy, strategist at Societe Generale, said in a note to clients.

A weaker dollar as a result of expectations that the Fed’s loose monetary policy will stay intact for a long time underpinned gold, lifting it as much as 1.1 percent to a one-week high of $1,683.39 an ounce on Wednesday. Spot gold steadied around $1,676.71 early on Thursday.

The dollar maintained its advantage against the yen, with expectations that the Bank of Japan will unveil drastically accommodative monetary policy in coming months firmly capping 10-year Japanese government bond yields below 0.8 percent. In contrast, the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury yield has inched up to around 2.00 percent.

The dollar was at 90.99 yen after reaching 91.41 yen on Wednesday, its highest since June 2010. The euro traded at 123.43 yen, not far from Wednesday’s high of 123.87, its loftiest since May 2010.

U.S. crude futures was up 0.1 percent to $98 a barrel early on Thursday. Brent crude hit a three-month high on Wednesday as Europe’s economic data spurred optimism about the global economy, overshadowing weak U.S. GDP. <O/R>

(Additional reporting by Dominic Lau in Tokyo; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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