Thai coup protest leaders face weeks of jail

July 28, 2007

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Detained leaders of a violent anti-coup protest in Thailand could be kept in jail for weeks, crucially beyond next month’s referendum on a new constitution, police said on Saturday.

The eight, a mixture of academics opposed to last September’s military coup and supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, have been held since Thursday, when they were charged with organizing an illegal demonstration and instigating unrest.

“The protestors can be detained for up to 48 days,” Police Colonel Supisarn Bhakdinarinath told Reuters, although he said if investigations into last Sunday’s clashes with police were completed quicker, their pre-trial detention would be shorter.

The eight have denied the charges and refused to apply for bail. A ninth man was released on bail on Friday.

Police are allowed to hold suspects for stretches of 12 days at a time, after which they must ask the courts for a renewal of the detention order. Only three renewals are allowed.

Around 100 police and demonstrators were injured during a rally outside the house of former Prime Minister and chief royal adviser Prem Tinsulanonda, whom Thaksin loyalists say masterminded the September 19 coup.

Six protesters were arrested for throwing rocks and bottles at police lines during the incident, the first outbreak of violence since the removal of Thaksin in what was Thailand’s 18th coup in 75 years of on-off democracy.

A new constitution drawn up by an army-appointed committee to replace the 1997 charter abrogated after the coup goes before a national referendum on August 19.

As a result of the trouble, the army-appointed government has said any future protests must stay within the confines of Sanam Luang, a large parade ground in front of the glittering spires of Bangkok’s Grand Palace.

At face value, the coup stemmed from middle-class street protests in 2006 against Thaksin’s autocratic style and huge personal wealth, which his opponents say he wielded unfairly to secure unassailable support from rural voters.

But analysts say it was as much about a royalist military and corporate elite removing a nouveau riche, ethnic Chinese businessman who had encroached too far on their traditional turf.

Thaksin was in New York at the time of the coup and has spent most of the interim in London, where he has bought an English football club, or traveling round Asia playing golf and giving interviews and lectures.



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