Saturday, April 25, 2009

Red shirts move rally to Bangkok

Emergency rule ends, UDD defies city order

(Bangkok Post) -The anti-government United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship has moved its planned mass rally to Bangkok after the government on Friday lifted the state of emergency.

Today's rally was originally scheduled for other provinces which were not affected by the state of emergency with Samut Sakhon tipped as being the most likely venue.

The protest was relocated to Sanam Luang after Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva declared the lifting of emergency rule at the end of the joint parliamentary meeting in the early hours of yesterday morning.

Parliament wrapped its two-day special joint sitting to debate the crackdown on UDD red shirt demonstrators.

A government source said Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban called a meeting with security authorities to discuss the lifting of the state of emergency as parliament was about to adjourn on Thursday night.

The source said Mr Abhisit was concerned that emergency rule, if it was prolonged, would backfire on the government.

The source said national police chief Pol Gen Patcharawat Wongsuwon pledged to speed up criminal cases against leaders of the UDD and of the People's Alliance for Democracy in efforts to return peace to society.

Hundreds of cases are being processed in connection with street protests by both camps.

UDD leader Somyos Prueksakasemsuk said the planned rally would not be prolonged. It would begin about 5pm and disperse about 11pm.

It would tackle alleged government intimidation of UDD leaders, pressure the government to unblock the signal of its television broadcaster, D Station, and ask it to guarantee freedom of expression of red shirt protesters.

Like ASTV which supports the PAD, the UDD's satellite TV station is a communication channel and has been the mouthpiece of the red shirt supporters.

"The government should stop violating our rights of free speech. Blocking D Station's signal will only make red shirts more upset and force us to hold street protests," said Mr Somyos, who is one of the UDD's "second-generation" leaders.

All pro-UDD community radio stations must also be allowed to resume broadcasts, he added.

Mr Somyos said today's rally had nothing to do with other UDD leaders. "The decision to rally was made by the second-generation leaders, who felt upset with the Abhisit government's attempt to suppress the red shirt movement," he said. "It's now purely a people's movement."

Mr Somyos shrugged off City Hall's order to ban the UDD from using Sanam Luang for today's gathering. He said the protesters had no choice but to resist it .

According to Mr Somyos, there will be no phone-in by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin is in Liberia this week scouting for business opportunities in Africa, Reuters reported yesterday.

"I have come to visit Liberia to explore business opportunities in the areas of mining, agriculture and gas exploration," Thaksin said after meeting the West African country's vice-president earlier this week.

Small UDD rallies were also expected to take place today in Udon Thani, Chiang Mai and Phatthalung.

Mr Suthep said he instructed police to step up security for the main UDD rally but threatened to take legal action if the rally turned ugly or was deemed to be inciting fresh unrest.

Puea Thai MP and UDD leader Jatuporn Prompan, however, said he was unlikely to join the rally. He would talk to other UDD leaders first.

Mr Abhisit said the lifting of emergency rule was an indication of the government's determination to reconcile differences in society.

"By lifting the state of emergency we are sending a signal to the international community that normalcy has been restored," he said.

However, troops would remain deployed in certain locations where there was still public concern about security.

The UDD protest at Sanam Luang could proceed as long as it did not cause trouble, he said.

Mr Abhisit reiterated that he was ready to dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections but it should not happen before the charter is amended.

The political crisis would worsen if elections were organised when those rules that were seen as problematic had not been revised.

He said constitutional amendments would address the UDD's demands for democracy and reconciliation.

Meanwhile, the opposition Puea Thai party yesterday pressed on with its accusations that the military resorted to violence to disperse the UDD supporters during recent street protests.

Puea Thai spokesman Prompong Nopparit said the party would lodge complaints against Mr Abhisit with police and the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

During the two-day debate, Puea Thai MPs submitted to parliament "proof" of military violence.

Senator Somchai Sawaengkarn yesterday warned the government not to rush into charter amendments.

He said a panel should be first set up to review the charter.

He also welcomed the government's proposal for a parliamentary committee to investigate the military crackdown on the red shirt protesters.

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