Protests to stay til Thai leaders report to police

Protests to stay til Thai leaders report to police
# 11 May 2010 18:54 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. Thai anti-government demonstrators insisted Tuesday that they would continue their two-month protest until the country’s top leaders face criminal charges for a violent crackdown on their rallies, rejecting a government gesture of concession, APA reports quoting The Associated Press.
The so-called Red Shirt protesters, who believe the government came to power illegitimately and are demanding new elections, on Monday agreed in principle to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s offer to hold a vote in November — initially seen as the way out of the crisis.
But they said they would hold their ground — occupying a key commercial district in Bangkok — until Abhisit and Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban turned themselves in to police to be charged for using deadly force during April clashes between protesters and soldiers.
A quick government response that Abhisit and Suthep were willing to submit themselves to proper judicial processes had raised hopes that the Red Shirts might consider their demands met, and end their protest.
Suthep met with criminal investigators Tuesday morning at the Department of Special Investigation, Thailand’s equivalent of the FBI, to hear a separate complaint that had been filed against him a day earlier by a politician sympathetic to the Red Shirts.
"I’m ready to enter the legal procedure," Suthep told reporters. "I’m not following the demands of protesters. I’m following the law."
But the protesters — formally known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, or UDD — said the gesture was not enough. They want the leaders — particularly Suthep, who heads the security agency whose mandate is to suppress their protest — charged with manslaughter or similar offenses. No criminal charges have been filed against either of the men.
"As soon as Suthep presents himself as an accused, straightforwardly and according to law, the Red Shirts will go on stage and announce the end of the protest immediately also," Nattawut Saikua, a protest leader, said late Tuesday.
Protest leaders criticized Suthep’s move because the Department of Special Investigation is part of the government’s Center the Resolution of the Emergency Situation, and reports to him.
The head of the DSI "is Suthep’s subordinate. He can’t be the plaintiff," said Weng Tojirakarn, another protest leader.
The Red Shirts are demanding Suthep report instead to national police at the Crime Suppression Division — which is considered more sympathetic to the protest group.
Violence related to the protest has killed 29 people and wounded more than 1,400, according to a Health Ministry announcement issued Monday. An army attempt to sweep the demonstrators from the streets on April 10 set off pitched street fighting that left 25 people dead.
More than two dozen Red Shirt leaders already face a variety of charges, ranging from violating the terms of a state of emergency to weapons violations and assaults on government officials. The most serious charges, related to disruption of public transport services, infrastructure and telecommunications, are covered by terrorism statutes and are punishable by up to 20 years in jail and 1 million baht ($31,000) fines. No one has been arrested despite multiple attempts by police to serve warrants.
The Red Shirts include the rural and urban poor as well as pro-democracy advocates who see the Oxford-educated Abhisit as symbolic of an elite insensitive to the plight of most Thais. Many are supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist leader who was ousted in a 2006 military coup and charged with corruption and abuse of power.
Their protests have paralyzed a central portion of Bangkok that is home to several glitzy malls and luxury hotels, devastating the economy, particularly the vital tourism sector.
The Red Shirts have also demanded that their TV channel be allowed back on air. The government has shut down the channel’s satellite link and dozens of websites that it says have incited hatred in the country.