Sunday, November 20, 2011

Red, yellow shirts back on the streets

Bangkok Post

Battle lines drawn as fight over Thaksin clemency looms

Red shirt supporters held rallies in three provinces on Saturday to back a proposed royal pardon of convicted criminals including Thaksin Shinawatra, while the yellow shirt leaders of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) announced they will stage a day-long protest against the measure in Bangkok on Monday.

About 1,000 pro-Thaksin members gathered at Mukdahan provincial hall Saturday to back the government-proposed decree.

Hundreds of red shirt members also rallied at Khon Kaen and Samut Prakan provincial halls to call for the government to move forward the decree, which would pardon about 26,000 convicts, including some who have yet to serve a jail term, such as former prime minister Thaksin.

In Bangkok, the PAD issued a statement saying that it will hold a mass rally against the government's proposed royal decree.

The statement, read out by PAD spokesman Panthep Puapongpan, said the yellow shirts will gather in front of the Office of the Council of State from 10am to 6pm.

Rally leaders will submit petitions opposing the royal pardon to the Council of State, the Office of the Ombudsman and the Privy Council, said the statement.

The PAD said it also will seek a ruling from the Constitution Court on whether the royal pardon decree is constitutional.

The yellow shirts also will try to petition the National Anti-Corruption Committee (NACC) to act against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and other cabinet ministers for malfeasance by proposing the law "which could whitewash Thaksin".

Red shirt leader Kwanchai Praipana Saturday announced members of the Rak Isan Network would hold a series of rallies from Sunday to give moral support to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the draft decree. The first rally would be held at Udon Thani provincial hall Sunday, followed by Khon Kaen Monday and Maha Sarakham on Tuesday.

The decree was seeking clemency for tens of thousands convicts. It should not be scrapped simply because opponents feared that it would also benefit Thaksin, he said.

The proposed decree is also galvanising opposition from the anti-Thaksin movement.

An anti-pardon protest outside Lumpini Park on Friday drew about 1,000 people.

The People's Alliance for Democracy will hold a rally in front of the Council of State Monday to protest the pardon bid.

"It is unacceptable and irresponsible for thegovernment to distortthe principle and details of the decree and to seek a royal pardon for a convict [Thaksin] who doesn't admit his guilt," PAD spokesman Parnthep Pourpongpan said.

The cabinet on Tuesday discussed plans for drafting this year's royal pardon for jailed convicts to mark His Majesty the King's birthday on Dec 5.

The meeting, held behind closed doors, was criticised after government sources revealed the cabinet wanted to include conditions that might benefit Thaksin, who is on the run from a two-year jail term for corruption.

The Supreme Court sentenced Thaksin to two years in jail in 2008 for abusing his authority as prime minister to help his ex-wife Potjaman na Pombejra buy a state-owned plot of land in inner Bangkok in 2003.

Mr Parthep said the draft decree undermined the principle of the royal pardon.

Only convicts who were sentenced, had served their jail terms and admitted their guilt should be entitled to the annual royal pardon, he said.

The PAD would ask a Constitution Court judge to consider whether the government's move is illegitimate.

PAD would also ask the National Counter Corruption Commission to take legal action against the government for abuse of power by endorsing the draft royal decree.

PAD key leader Pibhop Dhongchai criticised the government for approving the draft decree when the country is struggling to get through the flood crisis.

Despite the controversy over the royal pardon for Thaksin, Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said many leaders attending the Asean Summit in Bali have expressed their confidence in and support for Ms Yingluck, saying she would be able to overcome the challenges of her new administration.

Speaking at the summit, the minister said no one had raised any concerns about the political situation in Bangkok.

Ms Yingluck held a meeting with US President Barack Obama Saturday.

President Obama warmly congratulated Ms Yingluck on her "inspirational" victory at the ballot box in July's elections.

Referring to Thailand's floods which have left almost 600 people dead and has tested her leadership, Mr Obama said: "We will extend any assistance we can. The US and Thailand are old allies, with great friendship. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the victims of the flood."
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