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Friday, 22 September, 2000, 13:15 GMT 14:15 UK
Thai PM gets on his bike
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Thai commuters are being urged to use public transport
Thailand's Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai took to two wheels on Friday as Bangkok joined more than 800 cities around the world to mark international car-free day.

The move gave something of a mixed message however when rush hour traffic was brought to a grinding halt as police closed a number of roads along the prime minister's one-kilometre route to Government House.

Chuan Leekpai
The Thai PM has been criticised for political gesturing
Mr Chuan said he was opting for a change of transport to join international protests against rising fuel prices and demonstrate to Thai people the need to conserve energy.

He later abandoned the bicycle in favour of his official limousine to carry out official functions.

Mr Chuan has suggested that if the day is successful it could be repeated once a week as a way of putting pressure on oil-producing countries to reduce prices.

"I'm confident that if many countries co-operate to save energy it could put pressure on Opec," he told reporters.

'Western idea'

Traffic
Car-free reality: Despite appearences officials say that this was better than normal
Other government ministers joined the prime minister in briefly renouncing their cars, although former deputy premier Virabongsa Ramangkura said he would drive to work as usual as the car-free day was a Western idea.

"Why do we have to follow them?" he asked the English-language Bangkok Post.

Newly-elected Bangkok Governor Samak Sundaravej also said he planned to drive his car to work as usual.

"I don't want to criticise it. But I don't think that I should take a bus to attend the many events scheduled," he told the Nation newspaper.

'Image building'

Skytrain
Some ministers took Bangkok's new "Skytrain" to work
Other politicians attacked the prime minister's move as little more than a gesture to win support for his embattled government.

"This is image-building," Senator Somkiat Sornlam told the paper.

"The government tries to portray that it is attempting to tackle the oil price problem but in reality, it only wants to get by for another day."

Nonetheless Savit Bhodivihok, the minister responsible for national energy issues, said the campaign had successfully increased traffic flow in the notoriously overcrowded streets of the Thai capital.

"There was very good co-operation from the public," he told the news agency AFP.

"The average car speed increased 15 % and pollution was down 15-20 %," he said.

Bangkok has more than 1.3 million cars registered in the city and the number is growing fast.

The opening last year of the city's elevated railway - popularly known as the Skytrain - has had some impact on the city's traffic levels, but campaigners say much of Bangkok still lacks any form of efficient public transport.

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See also:

22 Sep 00 | Europe
EU's day for car-free cities
30 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Bangkok's 'Lady Buses' on road
20 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
Thai surfers dodge traffic jams
05 Dec 99 | Asia-Pacific
Skytrain to clear the Bangkok air
12 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Thai drivers face platform shoe ban
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