Thais call up goddess to scare off tsunami ghosts

Bangkok, Thailand - With Asian tourists still shunning its southern beaches, Thailand is calling in a revered Chinese sea goddess to ward off the restive spirits of the thousands who died in last December's tsunami.

A statue of Godmother Ruby, known as Mazu in Chinese, will be brought to the Thai island of Phuket from the Chinese coastal province of Fujian next month for ghost-clearing rites, said Suwalai Pinpradab of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

"After the tsunami, Taiwanese, Hong Kong, Chinese and other East Asians dare not come because they don't want to visit places where mass deaths took place," Suwalai told Reuters on Friday. "It is inauspicious."

Mazu, a Taoist goddess of the sea, has a huge following among fishermen and shipworkers in coastal provinces of southern China and Taiwan.

Thailand's official death toll from the December 26 disaster stands at 5,395, of which 2,436 are believed to be foreigners. Of these, fewer than 50 were East Asians.