Red shirts send strong signal

straitimes

 
 
February 01, 2009 Sunday, 12:02 PM
Nirmal Ghosh witnesses a pro-democracy rally in Bangkok.
 
 
Nirmal Ghosh
Thailand Correspondent

THAILAND’S pro-democracy ”red shirts” began gathering at Sanam Luang around midday on Saturday for their scheduled rally. I got there at around 5.30pm and found well over 10,000 people. By the time I left two hours later it had reached over 30,000. Organisers claimed it had reached 50,000.
 
I bumped into former National Human Rights Commissioner Jaran Ditta-apichai who supports the reds, behind the stage. In the course of our chat he said ”Even if Thaksin (Shinawatra) stops fighting, the red movement will go on. Reds are not fighting for any leader, they fight for an ideology.”
 
And as we parted he added cryptically : ”The ultimate ideology.”
 
Later professor Giles Ji Ungpakorn turned up as well, wearing a black T-shirt with a red baseball cap. He had joined the reds, he said.
 
I had a longish talk with him. He agreed that several issues including the lese majeste issue, were converging under the banner of the pro-democracy reds (see my report at http://www.straitstimes.com/News/World/Story/STIStory_332830.html?sunwMethod=GET)
 
In the course of talking about the composition of the red shirts, Giles who has always been critical of Thaksin for his human rights abuses, said ”Being pro-Thaksin doesn’t mean people are puppets of Thaksin, or are being paid by Thaksin. The movement is beyond Thaksin, it’s a movement for democracy and a better future.”
 
The royalist People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) had its mass base in the middle class ”led by ultra-royalists who believe in nation, religion and king. They represent the elite, and want to reduce the democratic space.”


Jakrapob Penkair (left) meets Giles Ji Ungpakorn (right)  
SOURCE: Nirmal Ghosh

I followed prof Giles up on to the stage and took a picture of him greeting Jakrapob Penkair. To me that moment was one of many symbolic ones of the last three years of political turmoil in Thailand : Jakrapob and Giles both face lese majeste charges. In that moment, the lese majeste issue converged with the issue of democracy.
 
I left soon thereafter to write up my report. When I was done I met a couple of friends for a quiet chat, but then the text messages started coming in, from photographer Nick Nostitz and Bloomberg’s Dan Ten Kate who were among the very few foreign journalists on the scene. The reds were on the march and nearing Makkawan bridge where the police had an elaborate barricade of barbed wire.
 
I left immediately, and on the way was told the reds had broken through the barricade. There had been some tense moments and a few scuffles, and someone had used pepper spray in the melee. Reuters photographer Adrees Latif got a face full of it, but he wasn’t sure who had discharged it.


Supporters were in a mood of calm defiance  
SOURCE: Nick Nostitz

I arrived in the middle of a column of red shirts marching towards Government House, and joined them. A truck with red activists speaking from it through a sound system, slowly rumbled up the road surrounded by a sea of red, many of them women, and with quite a few children as well. The mood was one of calm defiance. There were no weapons in sight. Many were holding hands. It was around 1130pm.
 
They fetched up against a second police cordon on the bridge right next to Government House. In a few minutes the cordon opened up and the reds started filtering through. I followed them through and saw many of the police officers there smiling and laughing (the police were demoralized by their enforced impotence vis a vis the PAD, and many are sympathetic to the reds).


Soldiers in riot gear formed up to meet the protestors  
SOURCE: Nick Nostitz


Red shirts broke through the barricades around Government House  
SOURCE: Nick Nostitz

Then Veera disappeared, and former government spokesman Nattawit Saikuar, flanked by Jakrapob wearing a red T-shirt with the word Dictator on it crossed out in black, began haranguing the general and other police officers from the top of the lead truck.
 
The excitement seemed to mount then, and at the stroke of midnight Nattawut let out a roar and the truck he was on – and the crowd – surged forward and toppled the fence just a few feet in front of us. We turned and ran helter skelter to avoid being caught in the surge. For the first time since a motorcycle accident on Jan 12, 2008 that broke my leg, I found myself running!
 
We trotted into Government House, where the lawns have been newly restored after the PAD’s months-long occupation last year. The grass has yet to grow back though.


Pro-democracy supporters face off with soldiers
SOURCE: Nick Nostitz

There were hundreds of soldiers in the compound, with riot control gear. Soldiers relaxing on the ground stood and formed up, in a solid phalanx on the inside of the ornate fence. The red shirts filled up the road outside, and leaders began reading out their demands.
 
Then, with no attempt to get into Government House, they simply started dispersing. The trucks started up and rolled off, four of them in an ocean of red.
 
At no point was there the threat that things would go out of control, partly because none of the reds was armed in the manner that the PAD ”guards” were last year. So there was little provocation. And the reds retained the moral high ground by not invading Government House as the PAD had done – a factor crucial to their public image.

Author guilty of Thai king insult

clip_image001

Monday, January 19, 2009
11:09 Mecca time, 08:09 GMT

Nicolaides said the novel was his take on political and social life in contemporary Thailand [Reuters]

 

A court in Thailand has sentenced an Australian author to three years in jail after finding him guilty of insulting the country’s royal family.

Appearing in a Bangkok court house on Monday, Harry Nicolaides, had pleaded guilty to the charges, related to a 2005 novel he authored which reportedly sold just seven copies.

He was convicted under Thailand’s strict lese majeste laws, designed to protect the royal family but which activists say are outdated and stifle free speech.

Passing the court’s verdict, the judge initially sentenced Nicolaides to six years in jail, but reduced the sentence to three years because of his guilty plea.

Speaking in court earlier, Nicolaides, who was shackled at the ankles and wore a prison uniform, said he had endured “unspeakable suffering” since his arrest five months ago and that the case had taken a toll on his health and family.

“I would like to apologise,” he said, breaking down in tears. “This can’t be real. It feels like a bad dream.”

He said he had “unqualified respect for the king of Thailand” and had not intended to insult him.

The case comes as Thai authorities step up prosecutions under the country’s controversial laws on lese majeste or insulting the monarchy, which mandates a severe sentence for “whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the regent”.

He had faced a jail term of up to 15 years.

Arrest

“I would like to apologise. This can’t be real. It feels like a bad dream”

Harry Nicolaides

Nicolaides, who lived in Thailand from 2003-2005 and taught in the northern city of Chiang Rai, was arrested in August at Bangkok’s international airport as he was about to board a flight home to Melbourne.

The author was unaware of a warrant issued in March for his arrest in connection with his novel, Verisimilitude, rights group Reporters Without Borders said.

The group had urged the Thai authorities to drop the charges against him and to release him.

Nicolaides has described his book as a commentary on political and social life of contemporary Thailand, saying it was “never intended to threaten or defame the royal family”.

Laws ‘outdated’

Critics say the laws against insulting Thailand’s royal family are outdated [AFP]

Several academics, authors and journalists are also currently facing similar charges under the lese majeste laws.

Free speech activists have condemned the laws as outdated, saying it has no place in a democracy.

Sulak Sivaraksa, a Bangkok-based social activist, said many people were critical of the strict monarchy laws in private but did not have the courage to speak up openly about changing it.
 
“The lese majeste laws have mostly been used by politicians to get rid of or to silence the opposition,” he told Al Jazeera, adding that even the king had a few years ago said that the law was harmful to him and detrimental to the monarchy.

“I think we should be brave to do something to have this law changed,” Sulak said.

“Unfortunately in this country the people generally have no moral courage.”

Giles Ungpakorn, a Thai academic who is himself facing charges of lese majeste, said the laws undermined democratic rights to free speech.

“This law is not about protecting the monarchy, it’s about certain groups trying to protect their privilege and their power,” he told Al Jazeera.

“Thailand is supposed to be a democracy. And in a democracy you’re supposed to be entitled to free speech.”

The severity of the lese majeste laws was highlighted last year when a Swiss man, apparently acting in a drunken frenzy, was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years for defacing images of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-serving monarch.

He was pardoned by the king after serving about a month in jail.

Last week Thailand’s new prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, told reporters the monarchy had to be protected because it has “immense benefits to the country as a stabilising force”, adding that his government would try to ensure the law is not abused.

 

googleNews

Thailand sentences writer for insults
International Herald Tribune, France – By Seth Mydans and Mark McDonald BANGKOK: An Australian writer was sentenced to three years in prison Monday for insulting the Thai monarchy in a
Thailand jails Australian for insulting monarchy
Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom – An Australian writer has been sentenced to three years in jail in Thailand for insulting the monarchy. By Thomas Bell in Bangkok Harry Nicolaides, 41,
Melbourne writer jailed for insulting Thai royals
The Age, Australia – Harry Nicolaides waits in a Thai cell for his trial on charges of maligning Thailand’s king. He was later found guilty and sentenced to three years in
Jailed For Insulting Thai Prince
Sky News, UK – An Australian man has been jailed for three years for insulting a Thai monarch in a novel that sold just seven copies. Harry Nicolaides was handed the
Australian writer sentenced for insulting Thai king
CBC.ca, Canada – An Australian writer has been sentenced to three years in prison for insulting Thailand’s royal family in a novel he wrote. Bangkok’s Criminal Court handed
Australian author jailed for insulting Thai king
Radio Netherlands, Netherlands – In Thailand, an Australian author has been sentenced to prison for three years for lese majesty. A Bangkok judge has ruled that Harry Nicolaides insulted
Thai court sentences Australian author to three years in jail on
Xinhua, China – BANGKOK, Jan. 19 (Xinhua) — A Bangkok criminal court on Monday sentenced an Australian author to three years in jail for his remarks in a novel found
Aussie Jailed For Insulting Thai Royal
Bernama, Malaysia – By D. Arul Rajoo BANGKOK, Jan 19 (Bernama) — An Australian writer, who had taught English at a university in the northern city of Chiang Mai,
Australian convicted for insulting Thai monarchy
eTaiwan News, Taiwan – AP A Thai court has convicted an Australian writer of insulting Thailand’s royal family in his novel and ordered him to serve a three-year prison term.
Aussie jailed for insulting King
NEWS.com.au, Australia – By staff writers AUSTRALIAN author Harry Nicolaides has been sentenced to three years in a Thai jail for insulting the nation’s monarch in a novel.
Australian jailed for three years for insulting Thai king
AFP – BANGKOK (AFP) — A Thai court on Monday sentenced an Australian writer to three years in jail after finding him guilty of insulting Thailand’s revered royal
Writer Harry Nicolaides jailed for insulting Thai king
Times Online, UK – An Australian writer has been sentenced to three years in a Thai jail after pleading guilty to lese-majeste charges for insulting the country’s King.
Author charged over Thailand insult
Aljazeera.net, Qatar – An Australian author has pleaded guilty to charges of insulting the Thai royal family in a novel that reportedly sold only seven copies.
Australian pleads guilty in Thai royal insult case
Reuters India, India – BANGKOK (Reuters) – An Australian writer pleaded guilty to defaming Thailand’s crown prince on Monday and faces up to 15 years in jail when he is sentenced
Man who insulted Thai monarch jailed for 3yrs
ABC Online, Australia – By South East Asia correspondent Karen Percy An Australian man has been sentenced to three years jail in Bangkok after pleading guilty to insulting the Thai
Australian faces jail for insulting Thai monarchy
The Associated Press – BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — An Australian writer pleaded guilty Monday to criminal charges of insulting Thailand’s royal family in his 2005 novel,
Aust man to plead guilty in Thai lese-majesty trial
ABC Online, Australia – By South East Asia correspondent Karen Percy An Australian man facing court in Bangkok on charges of insulting Thailand’s monarchy has told reporters
Australian man to face Thai court over royal insult claims
Radio Australia, Australia – An Australian man, Harry Nicolaides, is due to appear in a Bangkok court today charged with insulting Thailand’s royal family. Mr Nicolaides published a
Australian to face court over Thai royal insult
ABC Online, Australia – By South East Asia correspondent Karen Percy An Australian charged with insulting the Thai monarchy will appear in a Bangkok court today.
Jail for insulting Thai royals
Daily Telegraph, Australia – AN Australian writer was sentenced to three years jail yesterday for insulting Thailand’s revered royal family in a novel that sold just 10 copies.
Court gives Australian man 3 year lesse majeste jail term
Thai News Agency MCOT, Thailand – BANGKOK, Jan 19 (TNA) – A Thai court on Monday handed down a three-year prison term to an Australian writer charged with lese majeste in his 2005 novel.
Australian sentenced to 3 years in jail
Phuket Gazette, Thailand – Bangkok (The Nation): A Thai court sentenced an Australian author to three years imprisonment on a lêse majesté charge this afternoon.
Aussie author gets jail term for ‘insulting’ Thai monarchy
RTT News, NY – (RTTNews) – An Australian author, who pleaded guilty to insulting the Thai monarchy, has been sentenced to three years in jail.
Australian author gets 3-year jail term in Thailand over lese
Southeast Asian Press Alliance, Thailand – A Thai court sentenced an Australian author to three years’ imprisonment for insulting a member of the royal family, media reports said.
Australian Jailed for Three Years in Thailand for Insults to King
ShortNews.com, Germany – Australian author Harry Nicolaides, 41, has been sentenced to three years in a Thai prison after a book he wrote was deemed to insult the Thai king.
Political repression in Thailand Pt1
Real News Network, NY – Giles Ji Ungpakorn describes his recent summons for Lese Majeste charges in Thailand for insulting the King of Thailand in his book ” A Coup for the Rich.
Aussie faces jail for insulting Thai monarch
Special Broadcasting Service, Australia –
Thailand: Petition — Defend freedom of speech. Stop the use of
Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, Australia – We, the undersigned, oppose the use of lese majeste in Thailand in order to prevent freedom of speech and academic freedom. We demand that the government
Thailand: Activist arrested for ‘insulting’ monarch
Green Left Weekly, Australia – Jan 17, 2009
Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a political science professor at Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University and a well-known socialist activist, has been ordered to appear at
Australian teacher jailed for three years after insulting Thai king
guardian.co.uk, UK –A court in Thailand today sentenced an Australian man to three years in prison for insulting the country’s revered monarchy, in one of the few conviction of
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Australian sentenced for insulting Thai monarchy
The Associated Press – BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — An Australian writer was sentenced Monday to three years in prison for insulting Thailand’s royal family in his novel,
Melbourne man jailed in Thailand
NEWS.com.au, Australia – A MELBOURNE writer was sentenced to three years in jail by a Thai court after he pleaded guilty to insulting Thailand’s revered royal family in a novel,
Writer jailed for Thai ‘insult’
BBC News, UK –Australian writer Harry Nicolaides has been sentenced to three years in a Thai jail for insulting the monarchy. Nicolaides wrote a novel four years ago,
Author Harry Nicolaides to plead guilty to Thai royal insult
The Australian, Australia – Article from: Australian AP AN Australian writer who says he’s endured “unspeakable suffering” in a Thai jail will plead guilty to criminal charges of
Australian jailed for three years for insulting Thai royals
AFP – BANGKOK (AFP) — A Thai court on Monday jailed an Australian writer for three years for insulting the royal family in a novel, the latest case to highlight
Melbourne author Harry Nicolaides to plead in Thai court
Melbourne Herald Sun, Australia – A MELBOURNE author’s health is deteriorating while he waits in a Bangkok jail to face trial for criticising the Thai monarchy, his family says.
Writer sentenced for ‘Thai insult’
Channel 4 News, UK – An Australian writer has been jailed for three years after being found guilty of insulting the Thai monarchy. Harry Nicolaides, a 41-year-old who worked as
Australian gets three years in prison for insulting Thai monarchy
TREND Information, Azerbaijan – A Bangkok court on Monday sentenced an Australian author to three years in jail for allegedly insulting the Thai monarchy in his novel Verisimilitude
Three years’ jail for Australian on Thai lese majeste charge
Australia Network News, Australia – Judges in Thailand have sentenced an Australian man to three years in jail for insulting the Thai monarchy. Harry Nicolaides, 41, had pleaded guilty to
Aussie jailed for insulting Thai king
LIVENEWS.com.au, Australia – An Australian writer who says he’s endured “unspeakable suffering” in a Thai prison has been jailed for three years after pleading guilty to criminal

Thai Critic Ungpakorn to be Charged with Lèse Majesté

AsiaSentinel 

Written by John Berthelsen    Monday, 12 January 2009

ImageThe government goes after a prominent academic and government gadfly

Recent Articles by Giles Ungpakorn:

Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a political science professor at Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University, has been ordered to appear tomorrow at a Bangkok police station to be charged under the country’s stiff lèse majesté laws for insulting the country’s monarchy.

Ungpakorn wrote a series of flame-throwing articles which appeared in Asia Sentinel, among other publications, charging that a royalist and anti-democratic alliance made up of what he called the “fascist” People’s Alliance for Democracy, the military, the police, the judiciary, most middle-class academics and especially Queen Sirikit of perpetrating a royalist coup that kicked two democratically elected governments out of power.

As Thailand emerges gingerly from two years of political chaos that began with an September 2006 military coup against the democratically elected government of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the government is increasingly using lèse majesté laws, the most restrictive known anywhere in the world, to stifle dissent. Since the 1970s, the laws have grown progressively stricter. Although the law is ostensibly designed to protect King Bhumibol Adulyadej or his family, it is increasingly being used to go after government critics, warranted or not. Charges have been filed against several individuals including the BBC correspondent in Bangkok, Jonathan Head, for reporting on the political situation.

In a first email, Ungpakorn said he had not been told which articles or speeches had resulted in the charge against him, but later said he was being charged over his book, “A Coup for the Rich”and added that he is prepared to fight any charges “in order to defend academic freedom, freedom of expression and democracy in Thailand.”

The book was withdrawn from sale by Chulalongkorn and Thammasat Universities. However, Ungpakorn said all 1,000 copies had sold out.  He directed readers to his blog http://wdpress.blog.co.uk/ where the book is available in its entirety.

“The monarchy has been quoted and used by various political factions in Thailand to legitimize their actions,” he wrote. “The most notable cases are the 19th September 2006 military coup and the illegal protests by the yellow-shirted PAD, which included shutting down the international airports. Lèse majesté charges in Thailand are notorious for being used by different political factions to attack their opponents. Many believe that this law is actually counter-productive to defending the monarchy. This is why it is very important that political scientists attempt to analyze the real role and nature of the Thai monarchy in an atmosphere of freedom and democracy.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists has protested the use lèse majesté laws against the press, particularly against BBC reporter Head. But use of the laws goes well byond just journalism. In September, Australian novelist Harry Nicolaides, 41, was arrested at Bangkok’s airport on charges that he had defamed the royal family in a 2005 novel when he tried to fly out of Bangkok to Australia. He said he was unaware of the arrest warrant.

He remains in jail despite four appeals.

The blogger Bangkok Pundit in November wrote that police are handling another 30 lese majeste cases including one against social critic Sulak Sivalak, who was arrested at his home in Khon Kaen in November for remarks he had made the previous December. Among the most prominent charged was former Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Jakrapob Penkair, who in a speech to the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand in August of 2007 criticized Thailand’s patronage system and particularly criticized Prem Tinsulanonda, the president of the Privy Council, a former prime minister and army general who is particularly close to the king.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Thailand 124th among 173 countries for restricting press freedom, recently expressing concern because 2,300 Internet websites were blocked in 2008, in most cases for lèse majesté. Ranongrak Suwanchawee, appointed information minister in the new Democrat government headed by Abhisit Vejjajiva, said on December 29 that blocking lèse-majesté websites would be her ministry’s main task.

Ungpakorn comes from a family with an illustrious history of protest. His father, Puey Ungpakorn, joined the Free Thai movement in the United Kingdom and parachuted into Northern Thailand in 1944 but was captured by the Japanese. Later, he became governor of the post-war Bank of Thailand before returning to the Faculty of Economics at Thammasat University. He was ultimately branded a communist and destroyer of unity by the political right. He resigned as rector at Thammasat in protest against the October 1976 massacre of students by rightists and was forced to flee the country.

Giles Ungpakorn urged opponents of the charges against him to write a letter of protest to the prime minister at Government House, Bangkok, Thailand  Fax number +66(0)29727751, to write letters of protest to the ambassador of the Royal Thai embassy in opponents’ own countries, and to ask that Amnesty International take up all lèse-majesté cases in Thailand.

Thais block ‘anti-royal’ websites

British Broadcasting Corporation

By Jonathan Head
BBC News, Bangkok

PM Abhisit Vejjajiva prostrates himself before a portrait of the King Dec 08

The government of new PM Abhisit, pictured, contains many ardent royalists

The new Thai government has ordered ministries to act more decisively against those who violate laws protecting the image of the monarchy.

The new minister for information and technology said the government was already blocking 2,300 websites deemed offensive to the monarchy.

It was seeking permission to block 400 more.

The authorities in Thailand have become increasingly sensitive to perceived slights against the monarchy.

This sensitivity in recent years comes as King Bhumibol Adulyadej grows older and the end of his 62-year reign draws closer.

The information ministry says it has set up a round-the-clock “war room” to combat websites containing content critical of the monarchy.

The army commander has also ordered military units to be more vigilant in tracking anti-monarchy activities.

Web targeted

The number of websites being targeted by the information ministry has increased sharply, from around 1,200 four months ago to 2,300 today – and the ministry still wants to block another 400.

The current government – which replaced one led by allies of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra last month – has many more ardent royalists among its backers.

They argue that the monarchy’s image is under attack as never before, despite the almost god-like public adulation for 81-year-old King Bhumibol.

Certainly there is plenty of salacious gossip on the internet about certain members of royal family.

But in their attempts to prevent such material being seen in Thailand, overzealous officials have been blocking relatively innocent sites that, for example, merely refer to the strict lese majeste statutes that outlaws criticism of the monarchy.

And no amount of internet censorship can prevent the growing, though still very discreet, discussions among ordinary Thais over the monarchy – some of which can be surprisingly frank.

googleNews

Thailand blocks 2300 sites deemed insulting to king
Reuters UK, UK –
BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand has blocked 2300 Web pages deemed insulting to the country’s revered monarchy and plans to block another 400,
Thailand shuts down 2300 websites for insulting monarchy
Sify, India
Bangkok: Thai officials on Tuesday said the government recently blocked 2300 websites for allegedly insulting the monarchy and is seeking court approval to
Thais block ‘anti-royal’ websites
BBC News, UK
By Jonathan Head The new Thai government has ordered ministries to act more decisively against those who violate laws protecting the image of the monarchy.
Thailand blocks thousands of websites for ‘insulting’ king
Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom
The Thai government has blocked 2300 websites deemed insulting to the country’s monarchy and is planning to block 400 more. By Thomas Bell in Bangkok King
Thailand blocks 2300 websites in charge of insulting monarchy
Xinhua, China –
BANGKOK, Jan. 6 (Xinhua) — Thai authorities have blocked 2300 websites for allegedly insulting monarchy and are waiting for court approval to take action
Thailand Blocks 2300 Web Sites It Says Insult King Bhumibol
Bloomberg –
By Rattaphol Onsanit and Daniel Ten Kate Jan. 6 (Bloomberg) — Thailand has blocked 2300 Web sites it says insult King Bhumibol Adulyadej and is
Thailand blocks 2300 websites for insulting monarchy
AFP
BANGKOK (AFP) — Thai authorities have blocked 2300 websites for allegedly insulting the country’s revered monarchy and are waiting for court approval to
Government officials in Thailand confirm the government banned
DailyTech, IL
A government official in Bangkok confirmed the Thai government has banned access to more than 2300 web sites throughout 2008, citing multiple reasons why
Thailand censors websites defaming royalty
Radio Australia News, Australia –
A statement issued by the ministry of information and communication, says that they are awaiting court approval to restrict 400 more sites under laws to

Thailand blocks thousands of websites for ‘insulting’ king

The Thai government has blocked 2,300 websites deemed insulting to the country’s monarchy and is planning to block 400 more.

telegraph

By Thomas Bell in Bangkok
Last Updated: 11:29AM GMT 06 Jan 2009

Thailand blocks thousands of websites for 'insulting' king

Thais have long been offended by insults against their king but the issue has become particularly sensitive during the political upheaval of recent months Photo: BLOOMBERG

King Bhumibol is worshipped by many Thais as the semidivine father of the nation. There are also acute sensitivities about what some people see as the palace’s role in politics. Strict lese majeste laws, which make “insulting” the monarchy punishable by up to 15 years in jail, effectively prohibit any public discussion of the subject.

“The blocking of websites that disseminate content and pictures which insult the monarchy is one of the government’s crucial policies,” the information and communication minister Ranongruk Suwanchawee said on Tuesday.

He added that the law would be strengthened to increase the power of officials to block websites as soon as parliament reopens after the new year holiday.

Among the web pages blocked is a recent article in the Economist magazine which claimed that the monarchy frequently involves itself in political affairs. Thai officials insist that the king’s role is purely ceremonial and are extremely sensitive to any suggestions otherwise.

Many of the blocked sites have message boards where Thais discuss politics and the monarchy.

Thais have long been offended by insults against their king but the issue has become particularly sensitive during the political upheaval of recent months.

Protesters who overran Bangkok’s airports at the end of last year and helped bring the current government to power claimed they were acting to protect the monarchy. The former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, and his supporters in the former government were portrayed as somehow opposed to the monarchy – an allegation they denied.

Some observers believed the anti-Thaksin movement had the backing of figures close to the palace but King Bhumibol made no comment on the events.

The army chief Gen Anupong Paojinda recently told an audience of 800 battalion commanders to monitor the internet for attacks against the king. Members of the new government have called for tougher penalties for lese majeste.

An Australian author, Harry Nicolaides, has been in jail awaiting trial for 4 months over passages of a self-published novel that were deemed to refer to the real-life crown prince.

Protesters force Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva to move maiden speech

googleNews

30-Dec-2008 14.30 (Bangkok Time)

 

Thai Premier Abhisit defies protesters for maiden speech
Times Online, UK – 1 hour ago
Thailand’s new premier Abhisit Vejjajiva delivered his maiden speech today in defiance of the thousands of protesters who have blockaded the parliament
Thai PM finally sets out policy, not in parliament
Forbes, NY – 1 hour ago
By Darren Schuettler BANGKOK, Dec 30 (Reuters) – Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva finally made his maiden policy speech on Tuesday, but the venue was
Thai Premier Vows to Aid Growth, Heal Nation’s Rifts
Bloomberg – 1 hour ago
By Rattaphol Onsanit and Anuchit Nguyen Dec. 30 (Bloomberg) — Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said he would restore investor confidence,
Thai Premier Evades Protesters to Deliver Maiden Policy Address
Bloomberg – 2 hours ago
By Rattaphol Onsanit and Anuchit Nguyen Dec. 30 (Bloomberg) — Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was forced to switch his maiden policy address from
Thai protesters hold Parliament blockade
International Herald Tribune, France – 2 hours ago
By Seth Mydans BANGKOK: Attempting to replicate the tactics of their opponents, antigovernment protesters blockaded Parliament for a second day,
Thai protesters keep pressure on PM
Aljazeera.net, Qatar – 3 hours ago
Anti-government protesters in Thailand have continued to blockade the country’s parliament for a second day, forcing the prime minister to consider moving
Protesters force Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva to move maiden speech
Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom – 3 hours ago
Thailand’s prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has been forced to deliver his maiden policy speech at the foreign ministry instead of parliament after
New Thai PM to deliver policy speech at Foreign Ministry
Deutsche Welle, Germany – 3 hours ago
The new Thai prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, is now expected to deliver his first policy speech at the country’s foreign ministry.
Policy delivery takes place at Foreign Ministry
Bangkok Post, Thailand – 4 hours ago
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and cabinet members decided to deliver the policy statement to the parliament at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Thai protesters maintain vigil
BBC News, UK – 4 hours ago
Crowds opposed to Thailand’s new Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva are rallying outside parliament for a second day. Mr Abhisit was due to make his first
Thai premier tries to enter parliament amid protests
AFP – 4 hours ago
BANGKOK (AFP) — Thousands of Thai protesters demanding new elections blockaded parliament for a second day Tuesday as riot police tried to clear a path for
Thai protests stop address by new PM
Financial Times, UK – 5 hours ago
By Tim Johnston in Bangkok Red-shirted demonstrators prevented Abhisit Vejjajiva, Thailand’s new premier, from presenting his agenda to parliament yesterday
Thai protesters blockade parliament for second day
Reuters – 5 hours ago
BANGKOK (Reuters) – Anti-government protesters blockaded Thailand’s parliament for a second day on Tuesday hours before Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was
Thai Police Try to Shove Aside Parliament Protesters
Bloomberg – 5 hours ago
By Rattaphol Onsanit and Anuchit Nguyen Dec. 30 (Bloomberg) — Massed ranks of Thai police failed to clear a path through anti-government demonstrators who
Protesters delay new Thai PMs policy address
Radio Australia, Australia – 7 hours ago
The new Thai government under Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is facing its first major test since coming to power a fortnight ago, with street protests
Thaksin supporters begin siege
AsiaOne, Singapore – 8 hours ago
Thousands of red-shirt pro-Thaksin Shinawatra members of the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DAAD) began what may be a long siege, blocking entry

Thai PM delivers key speech amid large protests

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30-Dec-2008

ANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) — Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva delivered the first policy speech of his term Tuesday despite the blockade of Parliament by thousands of supporters of Thailand’s former premier.

Backers of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra protest at Parliament in Bangkok on Monday.

Backers of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra protest at Parliament in Bangkok on Monday.

The protesters had kept Abhisit and his ministers out of the Parliament building and forced the delay of his speech since Monday.

Abhisit delivered the constitutionally-required speech from the foreign ministry. He focused on improving the nation’s economy, promoting tourism and dealing with Thailand’s troubled southern provinces.

The Thai constitution requires an incoming prime minister to address parliament with a formal policy speech within 15 days of taking office.

Abhisit has until January 7 to fulfill the obligation, although the government can request an extension. The constitution does not specify where the prime minister must deliver the speech.

Abhisit said negotiations with the protesters were ongoing and that he would not authorize violence or a special law to deal with the demonstrations.

“The government will not use force to disperse the demonstrators. We will continue to negotiate. What has happened today will not affect the government’s plans,” he said, according to the Thai News Agency.

Abhisit’s supporters, also numbering in the thousands, gathered outside his Democrat Party headquarters in Bangkok in a show of solidarity.

The Parliament named the 44-year-old, Oxford-educated Abhisit as prime minister on December 17 after some members of the former ruling coalition broke ranks to support him.

But his accession was met with angry protests by supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who threw rocks and chunks of pavement at lawmakers leaving the session.

Thailand’s recent woes date back to a 2006 coup that ousted Thaksin. They culminated with a December 2 court ruling that found the ruling party — former Thaksin backers — guilty of electoral fraud and threw his brother-in-law out of the prime minister’s office.

That ruling came after more than two months of sit-ins by opponents of the ruling People Power Party, which regained office in 2007 elections.

Demonstrators occupied the headquarters of the government and blockaded Bangkok’s major international airport, stranding hundreds of thousands of tourists who provide much of the country’s revenue.

Abhisit has pledged to work toward an economic rescue for Thailand, which teeters on the edge of recession.

Since the 2007 elections ended 16 months of military rule, the country has had three prime ministers