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PM assures Japan of poll

Posted by pakin On February - 10 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

Abe hopes for swift return to democracy

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha Monday sent a clear message to the Japanese government, its business leaders and the media that elections would be held in Thailand at the end of this year or early next.

This was a consistent theme laid out by Gen Prayut during his string of meetings, which ended with bilateral talks with his counterpart Shinzo Abe.

At the end of their 45-minute talks, the two leaders issued a joint statement covering politics and security, people-to-people exchanges and co-operation on regional and international issues. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Mr Abe said he hoped reconciliation would occur and democracy would return to Thailand swiftly.

At the same press conference, Gen Prayut thanked Japan for its concern and reiterated the same message he had given earlier to the Japanese business federation Keidanren – that elections would be held at the end of this year or early 2016.

“I promise that Thailand will return as a strong nation,” he said.

During their talks, Mr Abe praised Gen Prayut for his leadership, a government official attending the meeting told theBangkok Post.

Earlier in the day, Japanese business leaders raised the issue of “a return to civilian leadership”.

Gen Prayut assured Mr Abe he had no intention of retaining power, even after elections.

He went into considerable detail about the process, as he had with Japanese business leaders earlier.

Once the charter is completed in September, it will take several months for organic laws to be passed and polls would be held at the end of the year or early in 2016.

All is going according to the roadmap, although martial law is still necessary to maintain order, Mr Abe was told.

Both leaders witnessed the exchange of a Memorandum of Intent (MOI) on future cooperation in developing Thailand’s railways.

The MOI was inked earlier in the day between Transport Minister ACM Prajin Juntong and Akihiro Ohta, Japan’s Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.

Although Japan has not officially agreed to fund development of the railway, it has agreed to research and study development of two rail links – Bangkok-Chiang Mai and Mae Sot-Mukdahan.

The development will either focus on the improvement of existing metre-gauge lines or the development of new standard-gauge ones.

Both Thai and Japanese ministries will continue to explore possible technical cooperation, including technical transfers on the railway sector.

In order to improve rail connectivity with neighbouring countries in the Southern Economic Corridor from the East to West, both ministries would also cooperate on research and study on railway development of three routes – Kanchanaburi-Bangkok, Bangkok-Chachoengsao-Aranyaprathet and Bangkok-Chachoengsao-Laem Chabang.

The MOI also states that a “study on the feasibility of cooperation” on rail freight services in Thailand would be conducted.

Both ministries welcomed the “ongoing cooperation” on the development of the mass transit railway system in Bangkok – the Purple and Red lines.

A joint steering committee at the ministerial level will be set up to oversee the implementation of the MOI.

The existing Railway Working Group will support the new steering committee.

At the end of last month, Thailand and China agreed on the construction of the dual-track system on the Nong Khai-Map Ta Phut-Bangkok-Kaeng Khoi route, totalling 873 kilometres.

It is not clear how long the Japanese would take to conduct their study, but an informed source said that it is possible the government would allow the Japanese first pick of one of the routes before opening the others to bidding.

In their joint statement, Gen Prayut outlined Thailand’s initiative to establish the first of six Special Economic Zones along the borders of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Malaysia as part of a national strategy to stimulate economic growth, attract foreign investment, foster development of border areas and support Asean integration.

Mr Abe took note of the initiative.

Both sides reaffirmed the importance of promoting the Dawei Special Economic Zone in Myanmar through trilateral consultations between Japan, Thailand and Myanmar. Japan will start procedures to meet the necessary conditions for equity investment in Special Purpose Vehicles, while Thailand said it looked forward to Japan’s input on the project’s master plan.

Both leaders expressed “resolute condemnation over the outrageous and impermissible murders of the two Japanese nationals by the Islamic State group”.

They agreed that the international community should remain united and not give in to terrorism.

Gen Prayut, in his talks with Mr Abe, praised Japan for its “proactive contributions” to peace in the region, while in the joint statement, expressed appreciation for Japan’s role in working towards peace and stability in the Middle East.

Mr Abe said he appreciated Thailand’s strong support for the permanent membership of Japan in the reformed United Nations Security Council.

Gen Prayut is scheduled to leave Tokyo Tuesday on the high-speed Shinkansen (bullet train) for Osaka, where he intends to meet with regional business leaders before returning to Bangkok.

He plans to visit Japan again in March to attend the Third United Nations Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction and again in July for the 7th Mekong-Japan Summit.

Taxi association, regulators condem signs banning Japanese

A group of taxi drivers at Suvarnabhumi airport has responded to a Japanese businessman’s online complaint about an overcharging cabbie by refusing to take any Japanese passenger.

Despite condemnation from the airport’s taxi association and the Land Transport Department, drivers persisted Wednesday in putting multilingual signs in their cabs stating, “No Japanese.” In broken English, the sign also read “Cessation of Japanese passenger.”

It didn’t take long for a picture of a sign to appear on Facebook and Twitter, where it quickly went viral, three days after the Japanese man’s Facebook post also did.

Using the pseudonym “Koki Aki,” the Japanese educational volunteer and internet toy-business owner on Sunday posted a scathing review of what he saw as Suvarnabhumi’s many customer-service failings, particularly its taxi service. He said a driver of a sports-utility vehicle taxi tried to charge him 700 baht – double the normal rate – to take him to Bangkok’s Saphan Khwai area without using the meter.

Although Koki never filed a formal complaint, officials quickly banned driver Chaiyan Charoensopha from working at the airport, which apparently didn’t’ go over well with his fellow drivers.

The “no Japanese” sign carried the name of the Taxi Driver Pauthai Suvarnabhumi Association, but association president Sadit Jaitiang said the group did not make or sanction it. In an interview with the Bangkok Post, he said it came from members who might have wanted to do something in response to what had happened after Koki’s post.

“The association did not approve the sign, as it will damage the association,” Mr Sadit said. “The person who put up the sign may be our member, but we didn’t see when he put it up.”

Land Transport Department director-general Teerapong Rodprasert, meanwhile, said any taxi spotted with such a sign would be fined 1,000 baht.

Koki, who in a Tuesday interview with the Bangkok Post said he regretted the uproar his post caused, continued to fan the flames of controversy Wednesday by posting to his Facebook page that he didn’t believe banning problem customers was a solution to the problem.

“If Japanese people see this image, they will not feel good about Thailand and I feel sorry too,” he wrote.

Koki has since deleted his Wednesday post, claiming he received a message from Suvarnabhumi’s director that the photo of the sign was not from the airport taxi, but created to destroy the image of airport taxis.

In the deleted post, Koki wrote that if drivers feel that they have to negotiate fares to survive – rather than use the meter – drivers and the Land Transport Department should discuss regulations to allow them to get higher fares from passengers, he wrote.

Mr Sadit, meanwhile, defended his drivers’ desire to negotiate fares, particularly drivers of larger vehicles.

He urged the public to consider the situation at the airport where passengers often arrive as a group with four or five pieces of luggage that do not fit in compact-car taxis.

“If you have to go with a large car, should you pay extra? Let talk based on the facts, not the legal issue,” he said.

Mr Sadit said small taxis can fit three passengers with two bags. Otherwise the trunk won’t close and the driver faces the risk of police fines if spotted.

“Passengers pay tens of thousands of baht for an air ticket. Why can’t they pay a few hundred baht for a negotiated fare,” he asked.

Mr Sadit noted that the military had looked into taxi problems at the airport and there had been discussions on how to resolve similar problems, even before Koki’s viral post. He said the Land Transport Department now should take action to set clear fares for small and large taxis, as is done in other countries. He pointed out Japanese taxis, for example, charge higher fares at night.

“If you go to Japan, a taxi ride (from Narita airport to downtown Tokyo) is about 4,000 baht, but in Thailand, it is only a few hundred baht to go to Sukhumvit or Silom,” he said. “And the taxi has to go back to the airport with no passengers.”

BEIRUT – The Islamic State group threatened to kill two Japanese hostages unless it receives a $200 million ransom within 72 hours, but Tokyo vowed Tuesday it would not give in to “terrorism”.

IS has murdered five Western hostages since August last year, but it is the first time that the jihadist group — which has seized swathes of Syria and neighbouring Iraq — has threatened Japanese captives.

In footage posted on jihadist websites, a black-clad militant brandishing a knife addresses the camera in English, standing between two hostages wearing orange jumpsuits.

“You now have 72 hours to pressure your government into making a wise decision by paying the $200 million to save the lives of your citizens,” he says.

The militant says that the ransom demand is to compensate for non-military aid that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to support countries affected by the campaign against IS during an ongoing Middle East tour that on Tuesday saw him in Jerusalem.

But the Japanese government said it would not bow to extremism.

“Our country’s stance — contributing to the fight against terrorism without giving in — remains unchanged,” chief government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told a news conference in Tokyo.

An official in the foreign ministry’s terrorism prevention division had said earlier that the government was investigating the threat and the authenticity of the video.

Since August, IS has murdered three Americans and two Britons, posting grisly video footage of their executions.

US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, American aid worker Peter Kassig and British aid workers Alan Henning and David Haines were all beheaded.

The militant who appeared in the video threatening the Japanese hostages spoke with a very similar southern English accent to the militant who appeared in the footage posted of the executions of the Britons and Americans.

– Abe in Mideast –

Abe, who was due to give a Jerusalem new conference at 0800 GMT, pledged a total of $2.5 billion in humanitarian and development aid for the Middle East on the first leg of his tour in Cairo on Saturday.

He promised $200 million in non-military assistance for countries affected by the Islamic State (IS) group’s bloody expansion in Iraq and Syria, which spurred an exodus of refugees to neighbouring countries.

The first hostage — Kenji Goto — is a freelance journalist who set up a video production company, named Independent Press in Tokyo in 1996, feeding video documentaries on the Middle East and other regions to Japanese television networks, including public broadcaster NHK.

He was born in Sendai, Miyagi, in 1967, according to the company’s website.

The second hostage appeared in previous footage posted last August in which he identified himself as Haruna Yukawa and was shown being roughly interrogated by his captors.

Another online video that appeared at the time showed a man believed to be Yukawa test-firing an AK-47 assault rifle in Syria.

The same video could be seen on the website of Tokyo-based private military firm PMC, which listed Yukawa as its chief executive.

Calls to the firm at the time went unanswered and it was unclear if the company had other employees. Its website said the firm has branch offices in “Turkey, Syria, Africa”.

Japanese nationals’ involvement as combatants in foreign conflicts is limited, although the country’s extensive media is usually well-represented in hotspots.

Japan has been relatively isolated from the Islamist violence that has hit other developed countries, having tended to stay away from US-led military interventions.

The country was rocked in early 2013 when militants overran a remote gas plant in the Algerian desert. The four-day ordeal that involved hundreds of hostages ended when Algerian commandos stormed the plant.

Ten Japanese died, giving the country the single biggest body count.

The hostage-takers said they had launched the raid in response to military action against Islamists in Mali.

In response, Tokyo pledged $120 million in fresh aid to help stabilise the Islamist-infested Sahel region, which runs across North Africa.

Japan trade deficit shrinks 31.5%

Posted by pakin On December - 17 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

TOKYO – Japan’s trade deficit in November shrank by nearly a third from a year earlier, helped by higher exports and lower bills for oil imports, official data showed Wednesday.

The deficit came to 891.9 billion yen ($7.6 billion), down 31.5 percent from the year-before shortfall, the finance ministry said.

“The drop in the trade shortfall in November should be followed by a further narrowing in coming months as lower oil prices will reduce the import bill,” said Marcel Thieliant, Japan economist at Capital Economics.

The November deficit extended the run of Japan’s shortfalls to the 29th straight month but it was smaller than the median forecast of 996 billion yen in the red in a survey by the Nikkei business daily.

Exports rose 4.9 percent, largely on higher shipments of electronic components, optical equipment and machinery.

Imports fell by 1.7 percent, the first downturn in three months, as the cost of imports of crude oil and petroleum products plunged.

The yen’s exchange rate against the dollar was lower in November, pushing up import costs.

But lower oil prices more than offset the effect of the cheaper yen.