Thousands protest against Thai ruling military


Posted: 31 March 2007


BANGKOK – Thousands of people protested Friday against Thailand’s
ruling military junta, despite the government’s announcement that it
would hold elections in December to restore democracy.

Police estimated the crowd at 2,000, although organisers said 3,000
protesters were at the rally, outside Bangkok’s municipal centre,
calling on the military to step down.

“I am really against any government that resulted from an
undemocratic system, because it is not right to take power by force,”
said one 52-year-old protester, who asked only to be identified as Yod.

“If the military tries to use their power to prevent people from coming to the protest, people defy them,” he said.

Security forces were hardly visible, staying largely on the
sidelines of the protest, one of the largest since the military-backed
coup that ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in September last
year.

Police had said they would deploy some 1,500 officers Friday to
maintain order, but police at the scene said only about 250 were there.

The peaceful rally against the military came one day after
army-installed Premier Surayud Chulanont laid out the most detailed
plan yet for Thailand’s transition back to democracy.

He said a referendum would be held on a new constitution in September, followed by parliamentary polls in December.

Surayud also rejected calls from the military leader, General
Sonthi Boonyaratglin, to declare a state of emergency in Bangkok to
crack down on the small but growing anti-coup protests.

Sonthi fears the rallies could snowball much like last year’s
protests against then-premier Thaksin, which started off small but
eventually grew to weekly mass demonstrations that precipitated the
coup.

Friday’s protest organiser Nattawut Saikuar, a Thaksin ally, praised Surayud for standing up to the military.

“Even though government is clearly trying to ease the pressure by
setting election dates, there could still be a backlash because people
will closely watch to see how the military and government work to
achieve that goal,” he said.

Authorities in Bangkok closed a major park Thursday in a bid to
thwart the protest, but organisers simply moved the demonstration to a
new location.

Chief among the concerns of the protesters is the new constitution
being drafted by a panel hand-picked by the military, which critics
fear will merely cement the military’s role in government.

Sonthi and other generals have publicly called for a provision to
allow an appointed prime minister, despite opposition from Surayud.

Other officials have called for an appointed Senate, and for
establishing Buddhism as an official religion — something critics fear
could exacerbate a three-year separatist insurgency in Muslim-majority
provinces.

Shortly before the rally, national police chief Sereepisut
Taemeeyaves warned that authorities would not hesitate to break it up
if it turned rowdy.

“Anyone who violates the law will be prosecuted. The police are
ready to make arrests rather allow violations to happen,” he said.

The protest movement is beginning to create an odd coalition of
allies, with some pro-democracy groups who last year protested against
Thaksin now joining forces with his allies in rallying against the
military, analysts said.


AP Photo


The pro-democracy groups accused the billionaire businessman turned politician of corruption and cronyism.

The military has justified the coup by accusing Thaksin and his
government of corruption. Thaksin’s wife was formally charged with tax
evasion on Monday, making her the first member of his inner circle to
be hauled to court since the coup.

Michael Nelson, a political science lecturer at Chulalongkorn
University, said news of election dates would do little to appease the
protesters.

“For them, the problem is the coup government. Its announcement of
December elections is irrelevant. They want the military government to
step down now,” he said.

“Given the record of this government, protesters were not convinced by Surayud’s announcement,” he said.

“It’s just April, and December is a long way to go. Anything can happen.” – AFP /ls

AP Photo

The Huffington Post

March 30, 2007 09:20

RUNGRAWEE C. PINYORAT

Crowd small and peaceful as Thai anti-government protest begins


BANGKOK, Thailand — Initial turnout at a demonstration protesting
military-led rule in Thailand was modest, with the vociferous but
peaceful crowd failing to justify fears that they posed a threat to
public order.

The protesters, led by supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin
Shinawatra _ ousted in a bloodless coup last September _ gathered at a
stage erected next to Bangkok’s City Hall, after they were barred from
holding their rally at a traditional venue for political protests.

Up to 3,000 people had gathered some four hours after the rally
started, according to Chumporn Karnchanarat, district police chief, who
was at the rally.

The protesters have been holding small but growing weekly rallies
calling for the restoration of democracy, and expectations were high it
would be the biggest demonstration yet against the military-appointed
interim government that succeeded Thaksin.

A billboard behind the stage said “Freedom, equality of the people,
can only happen in a country that is democratically governed.”

In many ways, the protests mirror ones that were staged against
Thaksin before his fall, demanding that he step down because of alleged
corruption and abuse of power, although the crowd count for those
demonstrations often reached into the tens of thousands.

“I disagree with the coup, it is a dictatorship,” said one of the crowd, Suphachai Kruarattikan.

Asked about the allegations against Thaksin, Suphachai, 50, who
described himself as a businessman, said “There was nothing wrong with
it. The economy was good and people lived happily.” Under the present
government, he said, the economy is not good.

He also said the group should not have been banned from rallying at
Sanam Luang, a giant field where mass protests are often held.

“The authorities should not close it to us. It is the right of all Thais to express their political opinions,” Supachai said.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont turned down a request
from the military to declare a state of emergency in Bangkok, which
would have allowed authorities to ban public gatherings, impose curfews
and censor local news reports.

He said the situation “does not correspond with the need to declare
a state of emergency, and does not affect national security.”

At a protest by the same group last Friday that drew about 1,000
people, some demonstrators threw rocks, plastic bottles and chairs at
police.

Many Thais are losing patience with the coup leaders, who have
failed to prove corruption allegations against Thaksin and have had a
run of embarrassing policy flops.

The coup leaders scrapped the previous constitution, arguing it
allowed Thaksin to consolidate extraordinary powers in his hands. They
have promised to hold a public referendum on the new constitution being
written, followed by elections by the end of the year.

Surayud said Friday he expects a post-coup ban on political
activities to be lifted in September, ahead of general elections that
authorities hope can be held by the end of the year.

Political parties have been banned from holding meetings or campaigning since the coup.

On Thursday, Surayud said the referendum would be held by September, to allow time ahead of an election in December.

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Thailand: Anti-Coup Government Protest

March 30, 2007 11 40  GMT

Demonstrators planning anti-coup protests have vowed to hold
their largest rally yet March 30, despite warnings from security forces
and an announcement by coup-installed Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont
that elections will be held in December. Chulanont rejected calls by
military leader Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin to crack down on the protests
and declare a state of emergency in Bangkok.

International Herald Tribune

The Associated Press

BANGKOK, Thailand: A spirited but peaceful crowd
turned out in modest numbers Friday to protest military-led rule in
Thailand, keeping calm despite fears that they would pose a threat to
public order.

The protesters, led by supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin
Shinawatra — who was ousted in a bloodless coup last September —
gathered next to Bangkok’s City Hall, after they were barred from
holding their rally at an open field in another part of the capital
that is a traditional venue for political protests.

Up to 3,000 people attended, according to district police chief Col.
Chumporn Karnchanarat. Protest leaders said they would hold another
rally on April 6.

The rally continued an hour past its planned 10 p.m. close but no
violence was reported. There was some raucousness when Bangkok Police
Commissioner Lt. Gen. Adisorn Nontree earlier approached the crowd, and
he quickly left after they shouted at him to “Get out.”

Protesters have been holding small but growing rallies calling for
the restoration of democracy, even though elections have been promised
by the end of the year.

The
leaders of Friday night’s rally were former executives of Thaksin’s
Thai Rak Thai Party who have been trying to set up a satellite
television channel called “PTV” to spread their views.

However, the government, which says it fears a comeback by Thaksin
could spark instability, has barred their broadcasts. Thaksin was
abroad at the time of the coup, and has remained in exile.

At a protest by the same group last Friday that drew about 1,000
people, some demonstrators threw rocks, plastic bottles and chairs at
police.

Other groups not associated with Thaksin — in some cases comprising
the former leader’s critics — have also been staging anti-government
protests.

“People wearing boots and carrying guns tear the constitution apart
before our eyes,” said PTV director Natthawut Saikua. “They seized
power but their government has performed poorly.”

To a big round of applause, he declared, “What is wrong if we still love Thaksin?”

In many ways, the protests mirror ones that were staged against
Thaksin before his fall, demanding that he step down because of alleged
corruption and abuse of power, although the crowd count for those
demonstrations often reached into the tens of thousands.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont turned down a request
from the military — alarmed at the prospects of Friday’s protest — to
declare a state of emergency in Bangkok, which would have allowed
authorities to ban public gatherings, impose curfews and censor local
news reports.

He said the situation “does not correspond with the need to declare
a state of emergency, and does not affect national security.”

Many Thais have become disenchanted with the military-appointed
interim government, which has failed to prove corruption allegations
against Thaksin and has had a run of embarrassing policy flops.

The coup makers scrapped the previous constitution, arguing it
allowed Thaksin to consolidate extraordinary powers in his hands. They
have promised to hold a public referendum on the new constitution being
written.

On Thursday, Surayud said the referendum would be held by September,
to allow time ahead of an election in December. He said Friday he
expects a post-coup ban on political activities to be lifted in
September. Political parties have been banned from holding meetings or
campaigning since the coup.

Bloomberg

Thailand Anti-Government Protest Draws 4,000, Bangkok Post Says

By Shanthy Nambiar

March 31 (Bloomberg) — About 4,000 people joined a protest
in the capital Bangkok against the military-appointed government
and to seek an end to violence in the south, the Bangkok Post
reported.

The protest at Lan Khon Muang, a park near the Bangkok
Metropolitan Administration’s City Hall, in central Bangkok, was
led by former members of the former ruling Thai Rak Thai party,
the paper said. Another rally at Sanam Luang Park drew about 100
people, the paper said.

Political activities were banned by the junta that seized
power in a Sept. 19 coup, overthrowing the government of Thaksin
Shinawatra. Thailand will allow political meetings and campaigns
to resume in September ahead of elections scheduled for December,
Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said yesterday before the rally.

There was no violence at the demonstrations which ended
late last night, the paper said.

(Bangkok Post 3-31)
To contact the reporter on this story:
Shanthy Nambiar in Bangkok at
snambiar1@bloomberg.net .


Yahoo! Singapore - News

Thousands protest against Thai junta

Thai protesters vow to rally despite election plan

Anti-coup protesters Friday brushed off warnings from security
forces and vowed to hold the biggest rally yet against Thailand’s
junta, despite the announcement of elections for December.

Army-installed Premier Surayud Chulanont late Thursday laid out the
most detailed plan yet for Thailand’s transition back to democracy,
saying a referendum would be held on a new constitution in September,
followed by parliamentary polls in December.

He also rejected calls from the junta leader, General Sonthi
Boonyaratglin, to declare a state of emergency in Bangkok to crack down
on swelling anti-coup protests.

“I told Sonthi that my government will do its best to prevent the situation from deteriorating,” he told reporters Friday.

Nattawut Saikuar, one of the protest organisers, praised Surayud for
standing up to the junta but said the demonstration Friday evening
would go ahead to draw public attention to the “irregularities” of
military rule.

“Even though government is clearly trying to ease the pressure by
setting election dates, there could still be a backlash because people
will closely watch to see how the junta and government work to achieve
that goal,” Nattawut said.

Nattawut is the director of People Television (PTV), a satellite
station set up by allies of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra
but blocked by the military.

The station has joined with pro-democracy activists in staging a
series of small but growing protests in recent weeks, with some 2,000
people rallying against the junta last weekend.

Authorities in Bangkok closed a major park Thursday in a bid to
thwart the protest, but Nattawut said the demonstration would be moved
to a location near the city’s municipal centre and predicted it would
draw the biggest crowd yet.

“We will speak about the irregularities under military dictatorship,” he said.

Chief among the concerns of the protesters is the new constitution
being drafted by a panel hand-picked by the junta, which critics fear
will merely cement the military’s role in government.

Sonthi and other generals have publicly called for a provision to
allow an appointed prime minister, despite opposition from Surayud.

Other officials have called for an appointed Senate, and for
establishing Buddhism as an official religion — something critics fear
could exacerbate a three-year separatist insurgency in Muslim-majority
provinces.

At least 1,500 police will be deployed to the protest, while
roadblocks have been set up to discourage people from coming into
Bangkok from the countryside to join the demo, national police chief
Sereepisut Taemeeyaves said.

“Anyone who violates the law will be prosecuted. The police are
ready to make arrests rather allow violations to happen,” he said.

The protest movement is beginning to create an odd coalition of
allies, with some pro-democracy groups who last year protested against
Thaksin now joining forces with his allies in rallying against the
junta, analysts said.

The military has justified the coup by accusing Thaksin and his
government of corruption, while anti-Thaksin street protests in the
leadup to the coup accused him of cronyism as well as corruption.

Michael Nelson, a political science lecturer at Chulalongkorn
University, said the announcement of election dates would do little to
appease them.

“For them, the problem is the coup government. Its announcement of
December elections is irrelevant. They want the military government to
step down now,” he said.

“Given the record of this government, protesters were not convinced by Surayud’s announcement,” he said.

“It’s just April, and December is a long way to go. Anything can happen.”

Last Updated: March 31, 2007 00:00 EDT


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