Thai flood frustration grows  
by Robert Birsel
November 1
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Thai authorities tried to stem growing anger among flood victims on Tuesday as water swamped new neighborhoods and the government began mapping out a plan costing billions of dollars to prevent a repeat disaster and secure investor confidence.

The floods began in July and have devastated large parts of the central Chao Phraya river basin, killed nearly 400 people and disrupted the lives of more than two million.

Inner Bangkok, protected by a network of dikes and sandbag walls, survived peak tides on the weekend and remains mostly dry.

But large volumes of water are sliding across the land to the north, east and west of the city, trying to reach the sea and being diverted by the city centre's defenses into new suburbs as they recede in others.

In the northeastern city neighborhood of Sam Wa, angry residents demanded the opening of a sluice gate to let water out of their community. Residents jostled with police on Monday and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra ordered that the gate be opened by a meter (three feet).

But city authorities warned that the flow through the gate could move via a major canal into large parts of the city which are now dry.

"We are opposed to it but the government has ordered the BMA to open the gate, so more water will come," said Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA) spokesman Jate Sopitpongstorn.

"It could reach the Bang Chan industrial estate. We have to see the consequences," he told Reuters, adding that residents of the area had been told to be on alert.

Yingluck's government and the Bangkok authority represent opposing factions in Thailand's strife-plagued politics.

An expert from the government flood management team played down the danger to inner Bangkok of opening the sluice gate, saying the flow was relatively small compared with the amount coming in through leaks in the city's dikes.

"Inner Bangkok is not so much an issue," said academic Anon Sanitiwong Na Ayutthaya. "At least we know what to do, it's just a matter of time to fix the leaks."

The disaster has been the first big test for the government of Yingluck, the younger sister of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup.

Yingluck, a political novice, took over this year after an election that many Thais hoped would heal divisions that triggered street violence last year.

Saving central Bangkok from a ruinous flood would be an important victory. The city's 12 million people account for 41 percent of Thailand's gross domestic product.

But prolonged misery in outlying areas and heavily flooded provinces to the north would take the gloss off any victory for Yingluck, especially given a perception that those areas have been sacrificed to save the capital.

To the north of Bangkok, Pathum Thani and Ayutthaya provinces have been largely inundated for weeks, along with seven industrial estates that have sprung up over the last two decades on what used to be the central plain's rice fields.

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