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Daily Archives: January 23, 2008

Thousands rally for compensation over South Korea’s oil spill

Thousands of people hit by South Korea's worst oil spill staged a protest rally in central Seoul yesterday to demand swift compensation.Some 3,000 marine farmers and other residents dramatised their plight by displaying oil-coated oysters, fish, anchovies and seaweed.They demanded that parliament and the Samsung Group, South Korea's biggest conglomerate and operator of a barge which caused the spill, swiftly compensate them for their threatened livelihoods.Three people in the worst hit district have committed suicide following delays by local officials in making payments."Samsung Group should promise unlimited accountability and unlimited compensation," protesters chanted at the rally outside Seoul railway station.A few blocks away, scores of police buses barricaded the Samsung Group's headquarters. Thousands of riot police were on standby in the area.The accident happened on December 7 when the Samsung barge carrying a construction crane snapped its towing cables to two tugs in rough seas and rammed the anchored 147,000-ton supertanker Hebei Spirit off the west coast.The Hong Kong-registered tanker was holed in three places and spilt 10,900 tonnes of crude.Scores of marine farms and miles of beaches, notably in Taean county around 110 kilometres (69 miles) southwest of Seoul, were devastated.The central government sent about 60 billion won (63 million dollars) from state coffers and private donations to the region. But regional authorities have been at odds as how to divide the money."We are in total despair," said fisherman Park Mong-Kyo, 52. "We just don't know how many more months or years we must go on like this."Prosecutors on Monday indicted five people — the skippers of the barge and of the two tugs and the tanker's captain and chief officer — on charges of negligence and violating anti-pollution laws.The first court hearing is due tomorrow.Samsung Heavy Industries and Hebei Shipping, a Hong Kong corporation which owns the tanker, were indicted on charges of violating anti-pollution laws.Owners and managers of the tanker protested against the decision to charge its crew. Robert Bishop, CEO of British ship management company V.Ships, expressed "dismay and disappointment" in a statement.Bishop said the Hebei Spirit crew had carried out all instructions from South Korean maritime authorities before the accident and taken every possible measure to minimise the outflow of oil afterwards.He said evidence showed the captain "acted in an exemplary manner and in the highest possible traditions of the merchant marine."The Hebei Spirit officers are charged with failing to follow safety orders from navigation authorities.The owners and insurers of the tanker, along with the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund, have set up a centre to handle damages claims.

Under an agreement with South Korea's maritime ministry, the insurer will pay up to 12 billion won towards the cost of cleaning up the shoreline.

Thaksin’s wife says he’ll return in May to fight graft charges

Sample ImageOusted premier Thaksin Shinawatra will return to Thailand in May to defend himself against corruption charges, his wife said yesterday as she pleaded not guilty in a graft case.Pojaman Shinawatra did not speak during the 15-minute hearing at the Supreme Court, and smiled at reporters as she left the building.But she pleaded not guilty in a written filing, which was read out by the judges in court. Her statement said Thaksin, who has also been charged over the same controversial land deal, would return in May to defend himself.Thaksin has been living in self-imposed exile in Britain since the military toppled his government in September 2006.But his allies in the People Power Party (PPP) staged a comeback last month at the ballot box, winning the first elections since the bloodless coup.The PPP has formed a six-party coalition that controls two thirds of the seats in parliament, and party leader Samak Sundaravej is expected to be nominated as prime minister tomorrow.Their victory has opened the door for Thaksin to return to Thailand, but analysts say that he will first have to find a way to settle a slate of corruption charges already filed against him.The former telecoms tycoon indicated after the December elections that he would try to return by April.Pojaman and Thaksin each face up to 13 years in prison over two graft charges alleging she used her husband's political influence to buy prime Bangkok property from a government agency at about one third of its estimated value."The purchase of the land was legal. Everything was done according to the law," her lawyer Noppadol Pattama told reporters after the hearing.The next hearing was set for April 29, when Pojaman will be asked to submit evidence and a list of witnesses in her defence.The 51-year-old spent more than six months overseas with her husband while investigators here piled charges against them, but she returned to the kingdom earlier this month.Pojaman and Thaksin also face separate criminal charges accusing them of fraudulent filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission over the 2003 listing of a property company.Pojaman, her step-brother Banpot Damapong and her personal secretary Kanchanapa Honghern also face additional criminal charges of tax evasion. They have pleaded not guilty in the case.