by Staff Writers
Bangkok (AFP) Nov 17, 2011
Offering a hearty smile and traditional greetings, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton comforted Thais displaced by massive floods Thursday as she urged the long-divided nation to pull together.
Hoping to put a human face on US support for one of its oldest allies, Clinton toured a stadium in Bangkok where some 1,400 people are sleeping on mats after escaping floods that have affected millions around the kingdom.
Clinton grinned and pressed her hands together in a Thai "wai" greeting as she inquired about the health and conditions of survivors and their children, who ran around a floor cluttered by plastic bags full of salvaged belongings.
"Did you get a shot? Yes? Good," Clinton said to one middle-aged man in a T-shirt, who bowed to the ground in front of her in a sign of respect.
Clinton later recorded an interview with a popular Thai daytime talk show in which she declared: "I love Thailand and I love the Thai people."
"I want to tell you that we will be with you, not just now, but in years to come, because we believe in Thailand. We value greatly the Thai culture and the alliance and partnership we've had over so many years," she said.
Clinton, not known for her skill in foreign languages, was later persuaded by the show's hosts to chant with them a phrase in Thai -- "Susukha," which translates as "Be strong".
Despite the severity of the floods, the shelter -- which is run by volunteers and does not receive US assistance -- appeared to be in good shape, offering its residents comfortable air-conditioning and regular meals.
Clinton called the Rajamangala Stadium a "bright, cheerful complex" and said she was impressed to see volunteers helping in relief efforts, including women who offered free haircuts and babysitting.
While Clinton's visit to the shelter was brief and partly designed for media coverage, she also offered substantive help to Thailand, announcing Wednesday that Washington would commit up to $10 million in aid after teams from a US warship assess needs.
Clinton also threw support behind Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Thailand has been riven by years of sometimes violent political unrest, worrying the United States as it hopes to work with allies as part of a renewed focus on fast-growing Asia.
Yingluck is the sister of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 military coup and remains a deeply divisive figure. Yingluck's cabinet has reportedly approved a pardon that would allow Thaksin to return.
Clinton, speaking at a news conference with Yingluck late Wednesday, encouraged Thailand to move ahead with political reconciliation and said she was reassured of the premier's commitment to democracy.
"It is certainly up to the government and people of Thailand to determine exactly how to proceed, but we are encouraging it and quite heartened at the steps we have seen taken," she said.
In the interview on Thursday with the talk show "Puying Teung Puying," which is hosted by four women, Clinton also praised Yingluck for becoming Thailand's first female prime minister after elections in July.
"I'm very proud of her, because, boy, she came into office and -- wham -- just really faced a big set of challenges," Clinton said.
"It's hard for men or women, but -- let's face it -- women are held to a different, double standard."
"We feel like we have to work even harder, do even more, to prove ourselves," said Clinton, who narrowly lost a bid to to be the first female US president and has made women's rights a major focus in her role as the top US diplomat.
Since becoming secretary of state in 2009, Clinton has put a priority on holding public events which she hopes can help improve the global image of the United States which sunk to lows under former president George W. Bush.
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Thai flood run-off threat to marine life
Bangkok (AFP) Nov 16, 2011
As billions of cubic metres of water flow away from Thailand's devastating floods, experts and campaigners are warning that millions of sea creatures could be the next victims of the disaster. Fish and shellfish farmers on the Gulf of Thailand coast have been warned by Thai authorities to protect their stocks as an estimated 10 billion cubic metres of water flow into the gulf, massively dilu ... read more
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