Taiwanese caught in blaze
A Taiwanese national has been confirmed injured with burns to 65 percent of his body in an inferno that swept through a nightclub in Bangkok on New Year’s Eve, Taiwan’s representative office in Thailand reported late on Thursday. Marss Kuo (郭萬成), vice chairman of the Bangkok-based Charoen Pokphand Group, was taken to a hospital where he underwent surgery, a staff member of the representative office said. The staff member said the office would provide any assistance required by Kuo’s family, who had already arrived in Bangkok. The fire in the Santika club killed 59 people and injured more than 240 others. Police are still trying to determine the cause of the blaze. Taiwanese officials in Thailand were also trying to find out from the Thai authorities whether any other Taiwanese were among the 30 victims who remain unidentified.
Ma sponsors orange orchard
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) paid NT$80,000 to sponsor part of an orange orchard in Gukeng Township (古坑), Yunlin County, yesterday to help farmers in the region survive an orange glut that has driven prices to levels that mirror their costs. Despite the government’s efforts to boost demand through exports and domestic promotions, the retail price of oranges has fallen to about NT$10 per kilogram, close to farmers’ production costs. Ma said he would donate the oranges to charities or disadvantaged groups. He also urged private companies to sponsor orchards or farmland to help farmers ride out the ongoing economic downturn. The money Ma spent yesterday was from the special “state affairs fund” budgeted for his discretionary use as president. In response to press’ inquiries, Ma said he would use his own money in future to buy oranges and other farm produce to help reinvigorate the domestic economy.
Banned substance seized
The Taoyuan office of the Investigation Bureau announced on Thursday that its agents had seized 200kg of hydroxylimine hydrochloride — a raw material in the production of ketamine — a day earlier from inbound air cargo at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. The office said in a press release that its agents were informed of a suspicious chemical by officials from the Taipei Customs Office and that a test proved that the material was hydroxylimine hydrochloride, a precursor to ketamine. The chemical has been listed as a Class D narcotic by the Cabinet since 2007. The news release said the agents detained the owner of the cargo, surnamed Lin, 43, late on Wednesday night, questioned him and then referred him to the Taoyuan Public Prosecutors’ Office early the next day to face criminal charges. The investigators have estimated that the 200kg of hydroxylimine hydrochloride can be used to produce over 100kg of ketamine, with a street value of NT$70 million (US$2.14 million).
Quake rocks the south
An undersea earthquake measuring 5.5 on the Richter scale struck southern Taiwan yesterday, local seismologists said. There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties. The quake hit at 9:39am approximately 81.2km southwest of Hengchun (恆春), Pingtung County, at a depth of 93km, the Seismology Center said. The quake could not be felt in Taipei.