Thousands of Thais seek shelter as first tropical storm in decades nears coast

Locals clear out supplies from the coastline in preparation to the approaching Tropical Storm Pabuk on Friday, January 4. (AP)
Updated 04 January 2019
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Thousands of Thais seek shelter as first tropical storm in decades nears coast

  • The winds accompanying tropical storm Pabuk churned up high waves and gusts in the Gulf of Thailand
  • Weather officials warned of torrential downpours and strong winds in 15 provinces in the Thai south

BANGKOK: Thailand’s first tropical storm in three decades, packing winds of up to 80 kph (50 mph), is expected to make landfall on Friday evening, sending thousands of people flocking to shelter inland and shutting down two major airports.
The winds accompanying tropical storm Pabuk churned up high waves and gusts in the Gulf of Thailand, ahead of its arrival in the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat.
Weather officials warned of torrential downpours and strong winds in 15 provinces in the Thai south, home to one of the world’s largest natural rubber plantations and several islands thronged by tourists.
“The strong winds are forecast with waves up to 3 to 5 meters high in the Gulf and 2 to 3 meters high in the Andaman Sea. All ships (should) keep ashore,” the Thai Meteorological Department said in a statement early on Friday.
The conditions would persist into Saturday, it added.
Over the past few days, 6,176 people have been evacuated to shelters from Nakhon Si Thammarat as well as the provinces of Pattani, Songkhla and Yala, the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation has said.
The Nakhon Si Thammarat airport announced it had closed, and low-cost Nok Airlines Pcl said it had canceled all eight flights to and from the province.
The Surat Thani airport will also close from Friday afternoon to Saturday, canceling flights by Nok Airlines, Lion Air, and Thai Smile, a subsidiary of national carrier Thai Airways.
Earlier, Bangkok Airways Pcl also announced it had canceled all flights to and from the holiday destination of Koh Samui, where ferry services have also been suspended.
National energy company PTT Exploration and Production said it had suspended operations at Bongkot and Erawan, two of the country’s biggest gas fields in the Gulf of Thailand.


French police under fire as ‘yellow vests’ casualty toll mounts

Updated 23 min 5 sec ago
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French police under fire as ‘yellow vests’ casualty toll mounts

  • The leftwing Liberation daily counted 77 people with serious head injuries, 71 caused by rubber bullets and others by stun grenades
  • In one incident that caused widespread outrage, a volunteer fireman and father of three suffered a stroke on January 10 after being hit in the head in Bordeaux, apparently by a rubber bullet

PARIS: Twenty years ago Jean-Marc Michaud was a paratrooper who proudly marched with the army down the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris on France’s national holiday.
But these days, the 41-year-old former French soldier, who lost an eye to a rubber bullet during a “yellow vest” protest in Bordeaux last weekend, is “no longer proud of France at all,” he told AFP.
Michaud is one of dozens of protesters who have been seriously injured in clashes with police, whose sometimes heavy-handed tactics, particularly their use of 40-mm (1.6-inch) rubber projectiles and stun grenades, have drawn mounting criticism.
The “yellow vest” protests that erupted last year over fuel taxes have broadened into weekly demonstrations across France against President Emmanuel Macron, sometimes spiralling into violent clashes with police.
The “Disarm” collective, a local group that campaigns against police violence, has documented 98 cases of serious injuries since the first nationwide protests on November 17, including 15 cases of people losing an eye.
The leftwing Liberation daily counted 77 people with serious head injuries, 71 caused by rubber bullets and others by stun grenades.
In one incident that caused widespread outrage, a volunteer fireman and father of three suffered a stroke on January 10 after being hit in the head in Bordeaux, apparently by a rubber bullet.
Video footage of the incident, which was widely shared on social media, showed an officer firing at a group of retreating protesters, his rifle aimed at head level.
The footage then showed Olivier Beziade lying face down on the ground a few meters away, his back to the police. A rubber bullet was found at his feet.
“He was less than 10 meters away and they shot him in the head, there is no way that can be a mistake,” his wife Cindy told AFP.
Last week, a 15-year-old was hit in the face in the eastern city of Strasbourg, also apparently by a rubber bullet. A video showed the shocked teen pressing a cloth to his bloodied cheek.
France’s official police oversight body has received over 200 reports of police violence, though it has not given a breakdown of the cases.
The mounting list of injured has led to heightened scrutiny of police crowd-control techniques, long seen by some experts as aggravating tensions between the state and citizens in a country with a culture of violent protests.
On Thursday, France’s human rights ombudsman Jacques Toubon called for a suspension on the use of the so-called defense ball launchers (LBDs) that shoot the rubber rounds — a call echoed by Olivier Fillieule, a researcher on security at Lausanne University in Switzerland.
“France is about the only country, apart from two German states and Spain’s Guardia Civil, that uses LBDs in policing, with the terrible consequences we see which are unacceptable in a democracy,” Fillieule told AFP, calling it “a weapon of war if used at point-blank range.”
The police and government have defended the use of rubber bullets.
“We’re being attacked with glass bottles, cinder blocks, acid and bolts. An LBD is the weapon that scares people. If they took them away from us, no officer will want to work during the protests,” a police source told AFP.
Several incidents of officers being attacked by protesters have led to a hardening of the battle lines.
In one of most serious incidents, three officers on motorcycles had to make a hasty getaway after being pelted with electric scooters, paving stones and other objects on the Champs-Elysees on December 22.
One officer was knocked over with his bike, prompting another officer to briefly draw and point his gun at their attackers before retreating.
Under their rules of engagement, officers are allowed use rubber bullets “only in cases of absolute necessity,” where they are “strictly proportional” to the situation, are fired at least 10 meters from their target and aimed below the neck.
But the large number of head injuries among protesters suggests the rules are not always followed, fueling the vitriol of the yellow vests who are frequently heard shouting “CRS collabos” (riot police are collaborators).
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner this week brushed aside criticism of the force.
“I have never seen a policeman or gendarme attacking a protester,” he declared, despite a police captain being caught on camera on January 4 chasing and beating protesters in the southern city of Toulon.
But national police chief Eric Morvan, in a note to the troops this week, reminded them that the use of rubber bullets had to be proportional and could “only target the torso and lower limbs.”