Thai protest leaders surrender to police

October 10th, 2008 - 6:53 pm ICT by IANS  

Chulalongkorn UniversityBangkok, Oct 10 (DPA) Top leaders of an anti-government movement that has occupied Thailand’s seat of government since August surrendered Friday to police, a day after treason charges were dropped against them.The leaders of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) still face charges of resisting arrest and gathering illegally for the actions of their group, which was involved in deadly clashes with police this week and seized Government House Aug 26 in its five months of demonstrations aimed at toppling the government.

The treason charges dropped Thursday by Thailand’s Appeals Court carried a maximum sentence of death. Under the lesser charges, the nine PAD leaders now face a maximum sentence of seven years in prison if convicted.

Seven of the nine surrendered to officers at a Bangkok police station. The group, led by media tycoon Sondhi Limthongkul, were released on bail and immediately vowed to continue their protests against the government.

After release on bail, Sondhi told reporters that the PAD planned to organise a major rally at Bangkok’s National Police Bureau Oct 13 to protest the government’s use of force against PAD followers Tuesday in clashes with police that left two dead and
more than 440 injured.

The PAD is a loose coalition of conservative groups staunchly opposed to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his political allies, who now run the government.

Thailand’s recently appointed prime minister, Somchai Wongsawat, is Thaksin’s brother-in-law.

Political analysts predicted the dropping of treason charges against the PAD leaders will embolden them in their struggle to topple the current government.

“The PAD is pressing on to capitalise on the events of the past few days,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies (ISIS) at Chulalongkorn University. “They are becoming a bulldozing force.”

Meanwhile, former prime minister and deputy prime minister General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh said a military coup is the only means of solving Thailand’s political stalemate, the Bangkok Post reported Friday.

“There is no other way out,” said Chavalit, in an exclusive interview with the English-language daily.

“I see a putsch,” he said. “After the military steps in, power should immediately be returned to the people, and an interim government can be formed in which every party takes part.”

Chavlit, who was prime minister when Thailand was plunged into the Asian financial crisis in July 1997, had been assigned by Prime Minister Somchai to negotiate a reconciliation with the PAD, but failed.

Thailand’s current army commander-in-chief, General Anupong Paojinda, has repeatedly ruled out staging a coup to solve Thailand’s political woes.

But given the growing power of the PAD, and the weakness of Somchai’s government, another coup is deemed possible.

“Coups are always possible in Thailand but the likelihood of one has increased over the past few days,” said Thitinan.

The military’s last coup was on Sep 19, 2006, when tanks were rolled in to Bangkok to oust former premier Thaksin, who is now living in self-imposed exile in London, where he and his family have sought political asylum.

The coup and a military-installed interim government in 2007 failed to prevent the return of a pro-Thaksin government under the People Power Party, which won the Dec 23 general election.

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