Thai army set to smash protests

The Australian

Thai army set to smash protests

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A Thai soldier watches as protesters march during an anti-coup rally at the weekend in Bangkok. Source: Getty Images

AS army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha swiftly tightens his grip on Thailand, the new junta has issued a thinly veiled warning it is about to crack down on public protests against his coup.

The National Peace and Order Maintaining Command at the weekend also purged the police leadership, which it believes is ­riddled with Thaksin Shinawatra loyalists and United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) sympathisers.

The national police chief, the Bangkok metropolitan police commissioner and seven other ­officers were transferred to inactive posts, along with the chief of the Special Investigations Department and the Defence Ministry’s permanent secretary.

The NPOMC is expected to similarly purge provincial security administrations, particularly in the northern city of Chiang Mai, where support for the exiled former prime minister and UDD Red Shirts pervades most levels.

Two former senior ministers of the toppled Pheu Thai party ­government — Charupong Ruangsuwan and Chaturon Chaiseng — have refused the order to surrender and are believed to be in hiding in the north.

As small anti-coup protests materialised again yesterday in the capital, the junta’s spokesman warned people to stay away from them. Several dozen protesters were confronted by more than 100 armed troops in the up-market Pathum Wan district, with several people hustled away under arrest, one bleeding.

Political gatherings of more than five people are banned under martial law and the army’s handling of protesters in Bangkok yesterday appeared rougher than on Saturday.

Larger Red Shirts rallies were reported on Saturday from ­Chiang Mai in the north to Khon Kaen in the northeast.

In a televised message, NPOMC spokesman Winthai ­Suwaree said martial law measures were not aimed at “a particular person”, an apparent reference to the widespread belief the junta’s objective is to politically crush the Shinawatra clan. “I ask for people’s understanding on the current situation and that they refrain from anti-coup rallies, because democracy cannot proceed normally at the moment.”

However, Human Rights Watch Asia director Brad Adams claimed the military and the anti-Thaksin Bangkok establishment “are so desperate to rid the country of Thaksin and his allies that they are now holding the entire country hostage to their whims”.

“This rolling crackdown needs to come to an end immediately.”

The army chief, who has ­appointed himself acting Prime Minister, is expected to appoint a hand-picked legislative assembly this week tasked with drafting a new Thai constitution, after dissolving the Senate at the weekend.

General Prayuth is scheduled to retire from his army post in September, but has vowed to continue if he has not resolved the political crisis, which has disrupted the capital since November

The army has listed more than 150 people, now in detention or under order to surrender, mostly politicians or leaders of the ­opposed political movements, UDD and the pro-coup People’s Democratic Reform Committee.

Among the interned are Yingluck Shinawatra, who was elected prime minister in 2011 and removed from office by the Constitutional Court on May 7.

Colonel Winthai said Ms Yingluck and other internees not subject to earlier arrest warrants would be released within seven days, after “time to think”.

But those ordered to report now include academics such as Kyoto University’s professor of Southeast Asian studies, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, and newspaper commentator Pravit Rojanaphruk. “This is not about paving the way for reform and democratisation,” Dr Pavin told the Associated Press from Japan. “We are really going back to the crudest form of authoritarianism.”

Mr Thaksin has announced through his Canadian lawyer, Robert Amsterdam, a plan to ­establish a government-in-exile.

However, that will have little practical effect on affairs inside the country, or credibility with “friendly” countries like the US and Australia, whose officials view Mr Thaksin’s interventions from abroad as one of the main causes of political instability.

Protesters hold signs during the anti-coup protest. Source: Getty Images

Protesters marching against military rule in Bangkok on May 24, defying the ban on gatherings of more than five people. Reuters

Financial Times

“The Thai people have been fooled,” said Apple, a demonstrator in central Bangkok who gave only her nickname for fear of repercussions under a junta diktat forbidding criticism of its actions. “The military claim they are the army of the people – but actually they are not.”


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