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Top Thai forecaster fired for not warning

Thailand's top forecaster was removed from his job Tuesday for failing to issue a warning as huge waves barreled toward tourist resorts, the prime minister said.

The country's Meteorological Department has said that it knew about the huge earthquake that struck off the coast of Indonesia's Sumatra island on Dec. 26 _ and that it might produce a dangerous surge of water along the country's southwest coast _ about an hour before waves began slamming ashore.

But officials said they had no way to determine the size of the waves and therefore the threat they posed. They said they were reluctant to issue a warning without such information because it could harm the tourism industry, an action that could anger the government.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said Suparerk Thantiratanawong, director general of the Meteorological Department, had been removed from his post for the failure.

"If he warned (of the tsunami), the death toll would definitely have been minimized," Thaksin said.

Thaksin appointed Smith Thammasaroj, a retired chief of the department, to head a new committee to set up a national tsunami warning system in conjunction with other Asian countries.

Suparerk has been assigned to work with Smith for six months in developing the system. It was unclear what post, if any, he would assume afterward.