Monday, November 14, 2011

BANGKOK — Angry residents in flooded Bangkok protested on Monday, briefly blocking a major highway as frustration mounted that parts of the Thai capital are suffering badly while the centre stays dry.

Thailand's worst floods in half a century, triggered by months of unusually heavy monsoon rains, have left at least 562 people dead around the kingdom and damaged millions of homes and livelihoods.

After weeks of flooding, waters in some Bangkok districts have receded significantly. An AFP photographer said the water level in Lat Phrao and Mo Chit areas, on the northern edge of the city centre, had fallen by nearly a metre in 48 hours and inhabitants were no longer using boats to get around.

But elsewhere anger is growing that residential areas are being sacrificed to preserve Bangkok's commercial and tourist heart.

In the west of the city, around 200 people blocked a section of the Rama II road, the main route linking the capital to southern Thailand, to demand extra water pumps to help drain their swamped neighbourhoods.

"The villagers were not happy that there were not enough pumps to drain the floods," local police chief Colonel Nakarin Sukontawit said.

"The BMA (Bangkok Metropolitan Administration) agreed to bring two more pumps today, so the villagers decided to stop their protest."

Around 70 people also gathered at a major floodwall in northern Don Mueang district, watched by about 30 police officers, to ensure the authorities did not repair a gap they had opened to allow water to drain away from badly flooded areas.

Visiting the scene, Bangkok governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra reassured locals that he had not received a government order to repair the barrier and his team would take time to "analyse the situation".

People in the area -- many of whom have been living in waters waist-deep or worse for almost a month -- have threatened to step up their protest if the opening in the structure is repaired.

The 15-kilometre (nine-mile) floodwall, mostly made up of huge sandbags weighing up to 2.5 tonnes, is a key defence preventing run-off waters from the north from swamping Bangkok's glitzy downtown area.

"The water in my house reaches as high as my neck," said 65-year-old Wattana Klongsakon, adding that she was "satisfied" to see the brown liquid rushing through to the other side of the damaged barrier.

"If they rebuild it, we will definitely block the toll road", she said, referring to a major nearby route linking Bangkok to the north.

In an effort to spare Bangkok's economic and political heartland, authorities have been trying to drain the floods through waterways in the east and west of the sprawling capital and out to sea.

Under-pressure Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, facing the first serious test of her fledgling premiership, pleaded for patience and unity on her Facebook page on Monday.

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