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Thai PM tells Bangkok to move to safety

BANGKOK, Oct 21- Millions of jittery Bangkok residents were warned on Friday to move their belongings higher up after the government admitted it was failing in its battle to hold back huge floods just north of the city.

In a new tactic, the government has said it will open Bangkok’s sluice gates to allow the sea of floodwater to drain through canals in the capital, which has an extensive system of waterways and drainage pumps.

The move should ease pressure on vulnerable flood barriers on the northern edge of the city of 12 million people, but increases the threat to Bangkok itself, which has so far escaped major inundation.

Residents were advised to move their possessions to higher floors or areas as the capital braced for the arrival of the floods from the central plains, which are several metres under water in places.

“I ask all Bangkok residents to move your belongings to higher ground as a precaution, but they should not panic. It’s preparation,” Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra told reporters.

“We will rapidly assess the situation and regularly inform the public.”

On Thursday Yingluck warned the government “cannot block the water forever”.

Three months of heavy monsoon rains have killed more than 300 people, damaged the homes and livelihoods of millions of Thais, mostly in the north and centre, and forced tens of thousands to seek refuge in shelters.

In the capital there has been a rush to stock up on food and bottled water, while motorists have parked hundreds of cars on bridges or elevated roads.

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Yingluck said the authorities would organise additional evacuation centres, make more parking spaces available and assign security officials to oversee significant locations such as the palace and Bangkok’s main airport.

The opposition is calling on the government to declare a state of emergency to make it easier to control people and prevent them damaging dykes to ease the flooding in their own areas.

Tens of thousands of soldiers and police have already been mobilised to maintain order and maintain the flood barriers.

“I will consider declaring a state of emergency although we don’t want this kind of situation as investors’ confidence has already been shaken and so far the government received good cooperation from the military,” Yingluck said.

“I’m not sure that if we impose state of emergency it will help to improve the situation,” she added.

Yingluck, the sister of fugitive former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, is facing the biggest test so far of her two-month-old leadership and in recent days has appeared to be showing signs of strain.

The authorities have failed to protect a number of major industrial parks from the gushing brown water, which has inundated hundreds of factories outside Bangkok, disrupting production of cars, electronics and other goods.

The government says more than half a million people have seen their jobs disappear for now.

In Nonthaburi Province, only a few kilometres (miles) north of Bangkok, people have been wading through water with bags, boxes and suitcases as they abandoned their waterlogged homes.

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Most of Thailand’s main tourist attractions — including the southern islands of Samui, Phuket and Phi Phi — have been unaffected although some foreign governments have warned against non-essential travel to the country.

Bangkok’s main airport, built on a drained marsh, is still operating as normal and its flood defences have been reinforced.

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