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Thailand Coup Protests, Petitions & Prosecutions

Thailand Coup Protests & Petitions


by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- The wife of self-exiled billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, and two of their adult children, did not flee abroad after a bloodless military coup toppled his elected government, paving the way for possible prosecution of his family members for alleged corruption and tax evasion, reports said Friday (September 22).

Defying martial law on Friday (September 22), a dozen Thais protested for the first time against the coup, while an anti-coup petition was launched on Internet from America, signed by hundreds of people.

Thailand's military, armed and extensively trained by the U.S., easily seized power in a bloodless putsch on Tuesday (September 19), gaining crucial support from King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and widespread public approval.

The coup's leader, Army Commander-in-Chief Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, "informed His Majesty the King that Thaksin Shinawatra, as the prime minister, caused severe division within the nation and destroyed national unity," the palace said on Friday (September 22) after the general, in a snow white uniform, met the king to formally receive the monarch's endorsement in a televised ceremony.

While most Thais obediently love the king as a father figure, and respect his judgment more than their own, some opposed the coup.

A six-man junta, demanding it be called The Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy (CDRM), continued on Friday (September 22) locking up a handful of people linked to Mr. Thaksin, after the coup leaders trashed Thailand's constitution, muzzled free speech and the media, and banned political activity.

Mr. Thaksin's wife, Pojaman Shinawatra, and two of their adult children remained in Bangkok to try and protect the family's multi-billion dollar fortune.

Their businessman son Panthongtae, and university student daughter Paetongtarn, were at a residence on Bangkok's outskirts, the Nation newspaper said.

The disgraced couple's third child, daughter Pinthongta, was with Mr. Thaksin in London on Friday (September 22) where she is studying at a university.

Several years ago, Mr. Thaksin transferred much of his wealth to his wife and children.

"Mr. Panthongtae is the wealthiest investor on the Stock Exchange of Thailand, by virtue of shares transferred by his father in Shin Corp. and other holdings, such as Thai Military Bank," the Bangkok Post reported in November 2003, when the son was 23 years old.

In January, the family sold its stake in Shin Corp. telecommunications empire, to a Singapore's Temasek Holdings, and pocketed 1.9 billion U.S. dollars without paying taxes.

The "family still keeps some 50 billion baht (1.3 billion U.S. dollars) from the sale...in Thai banks, including Siam Commercial Bank, Bangkok Bank and Thanachart Bank," the Nation said.

"We haven't frozen any assets, because we don't have the authority to do so, and no one has ordered us to do so," said Bank of Thailand's governor, Pridiyathorn Devakula.

"No large amount of Thai baht has been converted into overseas currencies. However, I don't know whether the money could have been packed in suitcases and taken abroad, because the Immigration Bureau is responsible for this matter," Mr. Pridiyathorn said.

Mr. Thaksin's three sisters reportedly fled abroad.

Soldiers seized Mr. Thaksin's brother, Phayup Shinawatra, on Friday (September 22) and later released him, Thai media said.

The prime minister, and his colleagues, were widely criticized during the past few years for extrajudicial killings, massive alleged corruption, gutting institutions, and monopolizing power.

Mr. Thaksin won three nationwide election victories, and was expected to be re-elected again in November, because he offered poor people easy loans, cheap health care, and other tax-funded giveaways.

The army staged a coup because they perceived Mr. Thaksin caused conflicts between rich and poor, splits within the military, and other confrontations in this Buddhist-majority Southeast Asian nation.

"There is no such thing as building democracy through destroying democracy at the same time," said a group named 19 September Network Against Coup d'Etat.

"This act will lead to the outcome like the previous coups," the 19 September group said.

They were referring to Thailand's 17 previous military coups and coup attempts, including the last one in 1991 which ended in bloody street clashes in Bangkok in 1992, killing scores of people.

The 19 September group, describing themselves as "social activists, students and regular citizens," rallied on Friday (September 22) at a Bangkok shopping mall, and wore black to symbolize the "death of democracy in Thailand".

Their banners said: "No to Thaksin. No to coup," "Don't call it reform, it's a coup," and "No to martial law".

About a dozen people showed up, recorded by police video.

The military junta earlier banned political activity, and forbid people discussing politics on talk-show radios, Web sites, and TV.

"Please show your ethical courage by disobeying the coup's orders and rules," said an outraged Thanapol Eawsakul, editor of a political magazine.

Many Thais expressed support for the coup or adopted a wait-and-see response.

Gen. Sonthi promised to install an interim civilian administration within two weeks, but reportedly had problems finding candidates.

Elections would be held in one year, he said.

"Thailand's reputation as a beacon of democracy within Southeast Asia now is in tatters, its public image ruined. Perhaps rightly so," the respected Bangkok Post said in a Friday (September 22) editorial.

In America, a renowned Thai professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Thongchai Winichakul, created an anti-coup Internet petition which people could sign online at www.petitiononline.com/thaicoup/petition.html.

Headlined, "Thai Authorities Must Not Arrest or Harm the Protesters," the petition to said in part, "there should not be any arrest, or harm, to those people who express their views peacefully."

It garnered more than 400 electronic signatures, including academics and political analysts. Some names appeared twice.

The petition spread worldwide, and many people added anti-coup comments, including a possible prankster, "Thaksin Shinawatra @ London," who wrote, "thank you, my fellow Thais. we must bring democracy back to Thailand."

At least four of Mr. Thaksin's political colleagues, and two loyal army officers, remained in detention on Friday (September 22) at army facilities. No charges were publicly announced.

"If the military did not take this action, there would have been grave damage done to the country, because it would have been plunged into civil war," said retired Maj. Gen. Chamlong Srimuang, a leader of the former People's Alliance for Democracy, which was supposed to stage an anti-Thaksin rally the day of the coup.

Several top politicians, academics, Thai journalists, and others echoed a fear of "civil war" -- despite the past year's peaceful protests -- and insisted the coup was necessary even though it sparked criticism from the United States, European Union, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere.

*************

Copyright by Richard S. Ehrlich, who has reported news from Asia for the past 28 years, and is co-author of the non-fiction book of investigative journalism, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is http://www.geocities.com/asia_correspondent

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