By Maxmilian Wechsler
2002 was the year five Thai government ministries were formed: Ministry of Energy; Ministry of Digital Economy and Society; Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment; Ministry of Science and Technology, and Ministry of Sport and Tourism. Also founded were the National Office of Buddhism, an independent public agency of the central government, and Airports of Thailand Public Company. CentralPlaza Rama 2 shopping center in Bang Khun Tian district of Bangkok was opened. The Conservatory of Music at Rangsit University was established and Siam Philharmonic Orchestra was founded. The Global Buddhist Network, previously known as Dhammakayaka Media, was founded and Jamsai publishing company began operations.
• Urine tests became mandatory in all schools and universities in an attempt to
identify students taking illegal drugs. The testing plan was the latest of a series of moves in Interior Minister Purachai Piumsombun’s ‘social order’ campaign. Drug enforcement officials said the use of methamphetamines, or ya ba, had become rampant in society.
• The government banned a sex education handbook for teenagers, saying it contained improper language and was too blunt. The book was published by the Siam Care Organisation at the instruction of the Prime Minister’s Office, but the ban was enforced before all 100,000 copies could be distributed.
• Ten-baht coins fooled some vending machines in Europe which took them for new two-euro coins that were eight times as valuable. Some European tourists and others who realized they could cheat the machines began hoarding 10-baht coins during holidays in Thailand or even shipping them in large quantities to Europe.
• The police asked the Interior Ministry to blacklist two Bangkok-based foreign correspondents and their colleagues in Hong Kong for publishing a story suggesting the relationship between Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the palace was not harmonious. Shawn Crispin and Rodney Tasker from the Far Eastern Economic Review magazine were held responsible for a column published in the January 10 issue. “If they repent and apologise a heavy penalty can become light,” said National Police Chief Sant Sarutanond. Immigration authorities later scrapped a February 23 order that revoked the journalists’ visas after the magazine apologized. A formal statement read: “We are well aware of sensitivity issues, and the Thai traditions and customs, particularly in respect to the monarch. We can assure that all of us have no intention to violate Thai traditions, or cause any disturbance in Thai society.”
• Academics slammed a proposed new ‘master law’ enabling the government to quickly amend previous laws without going through Parliament. The proposed Civil Service Administrative Reform Bill raised fears that it would give PM Thaksin and his cabinet excessive power. It was denounced by critics as a backward step that would erase many of the country’s hard-won reforms and obliterate Parliament’s oversight role. The bill’s supporters said it would streamline the creation and amendment of laws and reduce the cumbersome and often politicized role of the bureaucracy, which they claimed was stifling Thailand’s progress and allowing unelected officials to maintain a choke-hold on the country’s legislative processes.
• The first locally produced cocktail of generic anti-HIV drugs made by the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation went on sale. The monthly supply for one patient cost 1,200 baht, making it one of the world’s least expensive HIV/AIDS anti-retroviral drug regimens. It was estimated that approximately 695,000 people in Thailand suffered from HIV/AIDS and 29,000 cases were added each year.
• The Nation Multimedia Group chose self-censorship to protest interference in its news coverage and announced it would not broadcast
political programs on its television
and radio channels. The announcement
came after revelations that police officials had ordered the Anti-Money Laundering Office to investigate the
assets of several high-profile journalists.
• PM Thaksin said in his regular weekly radio address that his political enemies were riding in taxis as passengers and spreading malicious gossip about him in hopes the drivers would pass the gossip on to other passengers. “The government will take legal action against anyone caught spreading rumors,” PM secretary-general Prommin Lertsuridej warned.
• The cable-stayed Rama VIII Bridge across the Chao Phraya River in Bangkokwas opened on May 7 and inaugurated on September 20, the birth date of King Ananda Mahidol (Rama VIII), after whom it was named.
• In her role as UN High Commissioner for Refugees American actress Angelina Jolie flew by helicopter to the Tham Hin refugee camp on the Thai-Myanmar border. The camp housed about 9,000 ethnic Karens who fled Myanmar due to government-backed persecution. Jolie, who was in Thailand to shoot the second Tomb Raider movie, promised to donate US$100,000 of her own money for the education of refugees.
• A Buddhist monk armed with an AK-47 assault rifle stormed into Parliament and fired in the air while demanding to see PM Thaksin. Phra Maha Sayan Jirasutho was able to smuggle the rifle into the Parliament building by hiding it under his saffron robe. After arguing with politicians and police he was overpowered by an anti-riot squad pretending to be a TV crew.
• Rama V Bridge, named in the honor of King Chulalongkorn, was opened across the Chao Phraya River in Nonthaburi province on June 21.
• The Royal Irrigation Department announced that despite its belief that dams were an effective tool for water management, it was shelving all dam projects opposed by locals and environmentalists.
• According to a report published by Cam Gemini Ernst & Young consultancy and Merrill Lynch, Thailand could claim about 20,000 US-dollar millionaires (excluding property assets) as the recovery from the 1997-1998 financial crisis continued. Many of the millionaires had made a killing from the region’s stock market boom over • The Siam Intercontinental Hotel closed its doors and awaited demolition to make way for the six-billion baht Siam Paragon project. The elegant 400-room hotel opened in 1966 and was one of the best known hotels in the country.
• PM Thaksin insisted that the torching of five primary schools in Songkhla province and the bombing of a Buddhist temple in Pattani province were the work of local criminal gangs and not resurgent separatists. “The people responsible for the attacks are not terrorists. They could be people with interests in illegal businesses such as drugs and crime,” Thaksin said.
• The story of ‘Tongdaeng’ penned by King Bhumibol sold out its first printing of 100,000 copies within hours of its release. The 84-page book written in English and Thai offered a unique look into the heart and personal life of the King. Some readers found parables in the description of the King’s relationship to his favorite dog, an adopted stray. Some 320,000 Tongdaeng polo shirts also quickly sold out.
• As the number of foreign visitors to Thailand continued to grow it became clear that many were now coming for high-quality healthcare at a fraction of the cost they would pay in their home countries. Medical treatment in Thailand with the added bonus of nearby tropical beaches provided an enormous draw for the already booming tourism industry.
• The 20th World Scout Jamboree took place at the naval base in Sattahip from December 28 to January 8. It was the second World Jamboree to be held in Southeast Asia. The event was attended by about 30,000 Scouts from all over the world, under the theme Share our World, Share our Cultures.
• After anti-drug measures such as border blocking, public education and promotion of sports and peer pressure campaigns against drug use proved more or less ineffective, PM Thaksin initiated a three-month ‘war on drugs’. With the stated goal of eliminating illicit drugs from the country by April 30, the program changed punishments for drug addicts, set provincial arrest and seizure targets and rewarded government officials for achieving these targets. Thaksin ordered the “ruthless” implementation of the program. According to Human Rights Watch reports, in the first three months 2,275 people were killed, a large number of them extrajudicially executed.
• In the early morning hours of January 26, about 200 men using heavy machinery demolished Sukhumit Square, the site of a popular night market. The violent eviction took place following a four-year dispute between landlord Chuvit Kamolvisit and tenants. People who lived on the premises were forced to escape into the street while open-air bars and shops were raised, unable to even retrieve their belongings. Denouncing the tactics, PM Thaksin said that ‘mafia rule’ would not be tolerated. Two days after the demolition 140 people were arrested. Massage parlor mogul and aspiring politician Chuvit, who allegedly ordered the demolition, was arrested in May.
• About 3,000 demonstrators marched from Lumpini Park to the
nearby American embassy, where they submitted a letter addressed to US President George W. Bush protesting the imminent US-led attack on Iraq. Some protesters then marched to the British embassy where they burned missile-shaped papers to protest London’s support of the invasion.
• Red Bull tycoon Chaleo Yoovidha, whose Krating Daeng energy drink
became a worldwide sensation, joined the ranks of the world’s billionaires, according to an annual survey by Forbes magazine.
• Air travelers returning from Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore and Taiwan were ordered by the health ministry to stay indoors for at least 14 days to prevent an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in Thailand. Legal action was threatened against people ignoring the order.
• Tens of thousands of people lined up at the Queen Sirikit National
Convention Centre to order low-cost computers. By the end of the day more than 19,000 units had been reserved. Desktop computers were priced at 10,900 baht and laptops at 19,500 baht. The event was chaired by PM Thaksin.
• A rule dictating students’ hairstyles was rescinded, ending a policy requiring military-style crops for boys and neck-length locks for girls. Previously a boy’s hair could not exceed 5cm in length at government-run schools. “Times have changed and it would be unrealistic to expect boys to continue carrying on with the conventional bowl cut,” said Kamol Rodklai, an official from the education ministry.
• Chuvit Kamolvisit was picked up by police on a highway claiming he had been kidnapped, drugged and then abandoned on the roadside. Chuvit appeared semi-conscious and went into convulsions when he arrived at the station and was later taken to hospital. He had disappeared a few days earlier after claiming he was paying police 12 million baht in bribes every month so they would allow him to run his businesses.
• In an attempt to stop illegal lotteries, the government began selling legal two-and three-digit tickets, anticipating around 35 million customers for the first draw. Tickets were available from vendors approved by the Government Lottery Office and could also be purchased at 375 post offices nationwide.
• An assistant professor of plant science at Thammasat University claimed to have developed an inexpensive way to convert used vegetable oil into a more environmentally friendly motor fuel. “You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to make recycled biodiesel,” said Dr Suthatip Bhamarapravati.
• Thailand repaid the final installment on a US$14 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). PM Thaksin congratulated the people of Thailand and promised it would be the last time the country would owe money to the IMF for a bailout.
established after a request from Her Majesty to found a permanent public exhibition hall to promote the works of Thai artists, both young and acclaimed masters. The Queen presided over the official opening on August 9.
• Southeast Asia’s most wanted terrorist, Riduan Isamuddin aka Hambali, was arrested in Auytthaya. The BigChilli published an investigative article on the case in the June 2016 issue. See: https://issuu.com/thebigchilli/docs/the_bigchilli_june_2016
• Political leaders from countries in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group gathered in Bangkok for a summit and witnessed a Royal Barge Procession on Chao Phraya River in which 2,082 oarsmen participated. Leaders from Australia, China, Russia, the US and 16 more countries attended the summit.
• India and Thailand signed a free-trade agreement to eliminate tariffs by 2010 to boost bilateral trade. PM Thaksin said the agreement would give Thai businessmen access to India’s market of more than a billion people.
• In his annual birthday speech King Bhumibol warned his subjects not to let success go to their heads. Recalling the Princess mother, the King said: “She said when I did something good it is alright to know what I did, but I should not be too proud.” The King also referred specifically to PM Thaksin’s ‘war on drugs’ and asked how the PM would take responsibility for it. Thaksin was also urged to allow a greater degree of press freedom.
2004 is the year Benjakitti Park on Ratchadaphisek Road next to Queen Sirikit National Convention Center was created. The National Astronomical Research Institute (NARIT) under the Ministry of Science and Technology was formed. The Miss International Queen was held for the first time in Pattaya and instantly became the world’s largest and most prestigious annual beauty pageant for transgender women. The Silpathorn Award was presented for the first time to living Thai contemporary artists by the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture, Ministry of Culture. The award was established to promote artists with established careers who have made notable contributions to fine arts and culture in Thailand. Thai Air Cargo was established as a joint venture between Thai logistic firm Commercial Transport International and Australian Airline Qantas. The World Professional Muay Thai Federation was formed by the Professional Boxing Association of Thailand.
• Martial law was declared in the three southernmost Thai provinces of
Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani after suspected ethnic Malay Muslim insurgents killed four soldiers in a raid on an arsenal at a Thai army base. The insurgents stole hundreds of assault rifles and other weapons. In a wave of simultaneous attacks 17 schools and three police stations were torched, mostly in Narathiwat. Meanwhile, a message was delivered to Buddhist teachers anonymously telling them to leave the South.
• The death of a six-year-old Thai boy from bird flu was Thailand’s first
confirmed casualty and led to the mass slaughter of chickens, ducks and other domesticated birds. “We cannot yet say how many chickens will be destroyed in the next few days, in addition to the 850,000 head of poultry already slaughtered,” said the Agriculture Ministry.
• Muslim Layers Association chairman Somchai Neelaphaijit vanished while on the way to meet a purported witness in a case involving alleged ethnic Malay insurgents captured in the South. Somchai had been defending suspects accused of attacking the army camp in Narathiwat province in January. His relatives and colleagues immediately became worried that he might have been abducted.
• About 10,000 people gathered outside the headquarters of the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) in Nonthaburi to protest a plan to privatize the state-owned entity. The protests and criticism from labor leaders forced PM Thaksin to reverse his approval of the sale and admit his mistake.
• April 28 was one of the most violent and bloody days the South had seen in many years. Thai security forces killed 107 Muslim insurgents in clashes in Yala, Pattani and Songkhla. Five Thai soldiers also lost their lives. Troops killed 32 insurgents who retreated to Krue Se mosque in Pattani after attacks on police and military positions. The attack commenced in the morning with insurgents using machetes, guns and grenade launchers mounted on pickup trucks.
• Interference in the media by the government was the worst since the October 1976 Thammasat University massacre, said academic Nidhi Eowsriwong at a seminar on alternative media. Thammasat lecturer Ruj Komolbutr pointed out that the government had banned the Khor Kid Duay Khon (Thinking Like the People) TV talk show, intervened in the Ruam Duay Chuay Kan (Helping Each Other) radio programme, issued warnings to Thai and foreign media, deprived the Thai Post and Naew Na newspapers of advertising and indirectly caused the dismissal of editors at the Bangkok Post and Siam Rath.
• About 10,000 passengers flocked to ride on Thailand’s first underground train system in a trial run. The Mass Rapid Transit Authority and its concessionaire, Bangkok Metro, unveiled the first railway tentacles under the city in a route covering 20 km from Hualampong to Bang Su. The half-hour journey made stops at 18 stations.
• The government began issuing new national ID cards with personal
information contained in a microchip, but the National Human Rights Commission warned it was an invasion of privacy. The ID showed a fingerprint as well as a photo and information including religion and blood type. The microchip also gave authorities easy access to data banks containing information on things such as social security benefits and medical history.
• A court sentenced 66-year-old Somchai Khunpluem, alias Kamnan Pho and dubbed the ‘Godfather of Chonburi’, to 25 years in jail for paying assassins to murder business rival Prayoon Sittichote. The gunmen linked to Somchai failed in four attempts to kill Prayoon. He was later shot dead by another group.
• Former PM and military dictator Thanom Kittikachorn died of a heart attack. He was 93 years old.
• The XV International AIDS Conference was held in Bangkok from July 11 to July 16 at IMPACT Arena in Nonthaburi. It was the first international AIDS conference in Southeast Asia. At an opening ceremony screened live on national television the main speakers were PM Thaksin and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Thaksin surprised the conference by pledging to adopt a “harm minimization” approach to AIDS prevention among drug users, and to work co-operatively with NGOs.
• Alien workers began registering for labor cards that allowed them to work or seek employment for the following 12 months. Most of those who registered were Burmese, Lao and Cambodians working manual jobs.
• Apirak Kosayodhin was elected governor of Bangkok, boosting his Democrat Party’s stature and presenting a challenge to PM Thaksin’s monopoly on power. Outgoing governor Samak Sundaravej ended his four years in charge with a legacy of lackluster leadership during Bangkok floods, fires and other crises.
• US President George W. Bush removed Thailand from the American government’s list of countries that featured significant illicit drug trafficking. The new list named 22 countries, included China, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.
• On October 25 around 1,500-2,000 people gathered in front of a police station in Tak Bai in Narathiwat province to protest the detention of six men jailed on suspicion of stealing weapons from pro-government militia. Several hours into the protest crowd members attempted to cross a police barrier into the station. Security authorities responded with tear gas and water cannons, and the crowd began throwing rocks. The security forces fired into the air and then into the crowd, killing seven people. More than 1,000 protesters were detained at the scene and then transported to Inkayut Army Camp in Pattani province. The trip took a few hours and by the time the trucks arrived at the destination 78 detainees had died, apparently from suffocation or organ collapse. The incident added fuel to an already raging fire in the Muslim-majority deep South.
• PM Thaksin began his Thai Rak Thai party election campaign at a packed Hua Mark stadium by promising to deliver on a number of populist policies. Thaksin said to thousands of cheering supporters that his ‘poverty eradication caravan’ would scour the country to help bridge the economic divide with occupational training, scholarships for students, low interest loans for farmers, land for landless farmers and a 30-baht health care for all.
• On November 2, Jaran Torae, a Buddhist deputy police chief, was found beheaded in Narathiwat province. A handwritten note said the act was in retaliation for the deaths of Tak Bai detainees. Several other killings of Buddhist village leaders and police officials were attributed as revenge for the Tak Bai incident. PM Thaksin expressed regret for what happened at Tak Bai, but he insisted there had been no wrongdoing by military personnel.
• Thousands of people died in Thailand after a 9.3 magnitude earthquake – the second largest on record – triggered a series of tsunami waves in the Indian Ocean. The BigChilli published an article on the catastrophe in its October 2017 issue under the headline: Killer waves in paradise – the Asian tsunami. See: https://issuu.com/thebigchilli/docs/the_bigchilli_october_2017
2005 witnessed the establishment of Ramangala University of Technology Srivijaya in Songkhla province and Ramangala University of Technology Thanyaburi in Pathum Thani province. The original Ramangala campus is in Chiang Mai province. Siam Paragon shopping mall opened in Bangkok, as did the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum. Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra gave its inaugural performance in a gala event for the International Trumpet Guild Conference. Government-sponsored Princess of Naradhiwas University was established in Narathiwat. The World Boxing Council Muaythai (or WBC Muaythai) was formed and commissioned under the jurisdiction of the World Boxing Council.
• General elections were held on February 6 with a turnout of 60.7%. PM Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party won a landslide victory, taking 375 out of 500 seats in the House of Representatives. Five other parties contested the election. The Democrat Party won 96 seats; National Party, 27 seats; and Great People’s Party, 2 seats. A total of 14,077,711 voters (56.4%) cast ballots for TRT candidates and 4,018,286 (16.1%) for Democrats.
• Frustrated by the mainstream media’s dependence on commercial revenues, Senator Jon Ungpakorn founded Prachathai website to provide in-depth reporting on issues deemed to be politically sensitive or that conflicted with advertisers’ interests. The senator compared freedom of the press under the Thaksin government to the situation under a military dictatorship.
• The government promoted the use of alternative fuels with subsidies to lower prices in an attempt to make Thailand more energy independent. Motorists in Thailand were open to alternative fuels such as gasohol and natural gas as petrol and diesel prices continued to skyrocket.
• Miss Canada, Russian-born Natalie Glebova, outshone 80 other contestants to win the Miss Universe pageant held at Muang Thong Thani’s Impact Arena.
• A non-confidence motion against Transport Minister Suriya
Jungrungreangkij was debated in the House of Representatives after it was made public that InVision and Patriot Business Consultants, InVision’s Thai distributor, had overcharged the government for Suvarnabhumi Airport’s X-ray baggage security system. Critics said that the market price for 26 CTX scanners was 1.4 billion baht, much less than the 4.3 billion baht agreed to in the contract. InVision admitted to the US Department of Justice in 2004 that there was a ‘high probability’ its agent or distributor bribed ‘officials or political parties’ to push products in Thailand. PM Thaksin instructed TRT MPs to support Suriya.
• During a visit to Thailand by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, PM Thaksin pledged Thailand would soon become a nation with full access to computers and the internet. Thaksin said he wanted computers and internet access in every school in the country within four years. Microsoft agreed to invest 180 million baht for computer education and e-government systems. The bulk of that amount, 136 million baht, went to the Thailand Net project, which aimed to train 69,000 web developers in the Kingdom within three years.
• Security authorities decided to repatriate 6,558 Hmong refugees living in Phetchaburi province, forcibly if necessary, saying they posed a security threat. The Hmong allegedly paid 2,000 baht each to human smugglers to be transported into Thailand from Laos. About 400 were former soldiers who fought against the communist regime in Laos who said they fled Laos with their families to escape persecution by the military.
• Around 10,000 monks, nuns, students and social activists took to the streets to protest the listing of Thai Beverage on the Stock Exchange of Thailand. ThaiBev is a holding company under which Chang beer, Mekong whisky and other alcohol brands are produced.
• THAICOM 4, also known as IPSTAR 1, was launched on August 11 from the European Space Agency’s space center in French Guiana on board an Ariane rocket. The satellite built by Space Systems/Loral for Thaicom Public Limited Company was capable of providing service to up to two million broadband users or nearly 30 million mobile phone subscribers in the Asia Pacific region.
• Miss Thailand World, Achara MacKay, gave up her crown only 10 days after winning it, claiming she hadn’t fully understood the contract she signed. Specifically, she was unaware that as Miss Thailand she would have to remain in the country for a full year. The Thai-Australian was not fluent in Thai and wanted to continue her studies and modeling career abroad, where she had spent most of her 21 years.
• A study from the Office of the Auditor-General concluded that every road and bridge construction project under the supervision of local administrative bodies was rife with corruption or sub-standard in its contracted work.
• Thousands of people packed Lumpini Park on Friday nights to listen to media tycoon Sondhi Limthongkul speak out against an alleged government attempt s to muzzle the press and unleash new ‘evidence’ of state corruption.
2006 is the year the sale of the Shinawatra’s family’s share of Shin Corporation to Temasek Holdings caused a great controversy. Chuvit Kamolvisit opened Chuvit Garden, a private park at Sukhumvit Soi 10 in Bangkok. The park was created on the site of the old Sukhumvit Square, which was demolished in the middle of the night allegedly on Chuvit’s orders. The Esplanade shopping and entertainment complex was opened on Ratchadaphisek Road in Din Daeng district of Bangkok. K-Mile Air cargo airline based in Bangkok was founded. Khlong Toey Market opened to become the biggest fresh market in Bangkok. Thai Parliament Television was launched and the Thailand Institute of Nuclear Technology was formed under the Ministry of Science and Technology. Elections for local councils in Bangkok were held.
• An estimate 50,000 people descended on Royal Plaza to call for PM Thaksin’s resignation. It was the biggest protest to date against the TRT leader, organized by media baron Sondhi Limthongkul, who had joined with political activists and other disgruntled groups to form the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). The PAD set up a camp at Sanam Luang in Bangkok and held daily rallies there.
• Chiang Mai Night Safari Park opened its door as officials ignored protests from animal rights’ groups. PM Thaksin presided over the opening ceremony at the 1.15 billion-baht site. The zoo’s director, Plodprasop Suraswadi, imported animals from China, Kenya, Australia, Germany and elsewhere.
• PM Thaksin dissolved the House of Representatives and called for a snap election on April 2. He hoped to return with a new mandate that would help him crush his opponents following months of street protests led by the PAD. “I cannot allow mob rule to supersede the law. I am ready to accept the decision of the people,” Thaksin said.
• Erawan Shrine’s plaster Hindu statue was smashed by a man who was then beaten to death by street cleaners. The statue was one of Bangkok’s most revered landmarks, attracting thousands of people daily. Police described the attacker as mentally deranged. His body was found near the shrine at the entrance to a five-star hotel. Two men were arrested and allegedly confessed to killing him. Caretaker PM Thaksin replaced the statue with a metal version that was installed in an elaborate Hindu and Buddhist procession on May 2.
• Parliamentary elections were held on April 2 with TRT registering 61.1% of the vote (15,866,031 ballots) and winning 460 of 500 seats in the House of Representatives. The opposition Democrat Party boycotted the election. On April 3 the PAD petitioned the Administrative Court to suspend election results and accused the Election Commission of violating voters’ privacy. Thaksin announced his resignation two days after the election.• On April 8 the Constitutional Court nullified results of the April 2 election
parliamentary elections in a bid to end a political impasse that had left the country unable to form a new government. The decision struck a hard blow to Thaksin’s embattled interim government. New elections were scheduled for October.
• Central Group parted with a rumored 3.3 billion baht to buy an 8.8 rai plot of land from the British embassy on Wireless Road. The details of the sale were kept secret by seller and buyer, but sources said the land in the capital’s central business district was valued at around 950,000 baht per square wah, making it the priciest real estate in the country.
• The whole country celebrated the 60th anniversary of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s accession to the throne. Visiting royals from 25 countries, including 13 monarchs, four royal consorts, six royal princes and two royal representatives, gathered in Bangkok to celebrate with the King. The King thanked all well-wishers, saying their spirit and kindness had lifted his inner strength. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered at Royal Plaza in Bangkok to view the event while millions more watched a live TV broadcast.
• A computer-animated film called Khan Kluay captured the fancy of the
nation. The film produced by Kantara Studios portrays a young elephant searching for its father and a kindhearted animal trainer who adopts him. Produced with a budget of 150 million baht, the movie won a number of domestic and international awards including Best Feature Film at the 2006 International Animation Festival in Spain. It was the highest-grossing film of the year in Thailand.
• Petroleum giant PTT was named one of the world’s top 500 companies in terms of corporate scale by Fortune magazine. PTT rose by 108 places from the previous year to become the 265th largest company globally, and was the only Thai company in the top 500. With total revenues listed at 878 billion baht, up by 44.2% year on year, the company raked in a profit of 81 billion baht.
• Caretaker PM Thaksin was the target of an assassination attempt, but he avoided a car bomb set for him by leaving his home an hour earlier than usual. The police arrested an army officer who was driving the car that contained the bomb. “It’s my lucky day,” Thaksin said. He then immediately fired General Panlop Pinmanee, deputy chief of the Internal Security Operation Command.
• Six bombs killed four people and injured 70 as Muslim separatists triggered simultaneous explosions in the South. Blasts in Hat Yai targeted a Big C department store, the Lee Gardens Hotel, the Monkey Pub and the Odeon Shopping mall. Most of the targets were popular with tourists.
• The government of Thaksin was overthrown in a bloodless military coup launched while he was in New York to deliver a speech to the UN. As tanks rolled on the streets of Bangkok, a desperate call from New York by Thaksin was broadcast on state television announcing a state of emergency in Bangkok. Thaksin ordered troops not to move ‘illegally’ and announced that coup leader and army chief General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin had been removed. Undeterred, the coup leaders set up the Council for National Security and threw out the 1997 Constitution.
• Suvarnabhumi Airport was opened, but officials were uncertain about what to do with Don Muang. There were suggestions that it be transformed into a convention center or be used for some other non-aviation purpose. Others insisted that Bangkok needed two airports. Meanwhile, the new airport continued to generate controversy due to allegations of corruption.