Tsunami-hit villagers in Thailand criticize anniversary ceremonies

Some Thais shunned Monday's elaborate ceremonies marking the first anniversary of the tsunami, saying the rites were expensive, inappropriate events designed to attract tourists and showcase the government. Led by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, scores of Thai officials were taking part in day-long commemorations in stricken areas along the southwestern Thai coast where the huge waves left some 8,000 Thais and foreigners dead and missing.

"The government is organizing a jolly celebration party, not a memorial service, not a peaceful merit-making. The government does not think of the hearts and minds of the people who lost their beloved ones," said Nantaya Saphanthong, a representative of the all-but-obliterated Ban Nam Khem village.

Nantaya said many in the fishing community are refusing to take part in government-organized activities at a nearby beach, and will instead will hold their own quiet Buddhist service in the village. She said the large sums of money being spent on the ceremonies should be used to help people "instead of paying money to singers and movie stars" who are coming to take part.

The officials events have been sub-contracted to GMM Grammy Public Company Ltd., a giant in the Thai entertainment sector. Suksan Phophannga, a university student and one of many students hired by the Tourist Organization of Thailand help at the ceremonies, said local people whom the students have met were not pleased with the official events.

"They feel that what government does is only to promote tourism rather than for the memory of people who were lost," Suksan told reporters.

Not long after the tsunami, the Thai government launched a massive campaign to bring tourists back to the affected areas. It has largely succeeded, with the current high tourist season bringing in bookings, except among Asians.

"Please tell your fellow Japanese and Chinese back home to stop fearing ghosts and return to this region again," Thaksin told some Japanese and Chinese tourists after one of Monday's ceremonies. A number of Asians have refused to vacation in places where many died last year, fearing their spirits were still around, reports the AP. I.L.

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