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Thai protest leaders released on bail

Latest update : 2008-10-10

Leaders of Thailand's recent anti-government protests turned themselves in to police Friday after being charged with inciting unrest, but were immediately released on bail.

BANGKOK - Leaders of a long-running protest in Thailand were released on bail on Friday after surrendering to police on charges of inciting unrest, leaving them free to continue their five-month campaign to unseat the government.

“Everything is done. There is no detention,” Sondhi Limthongkul, the head of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), told reporters after his release from a Bangkok police station along with six colleagues.

No bail bond was posted but three appointed senators, one of whom is a newspaper editor on Sondhi’s payroll, gave guarantees that the seven would return to court when summoned.

Their surrender followed a Court of Appeals decision to quash treason charges against them on Thursday. The court issued fresh warrants for inciting unrest, which carries seven years in jail.

Two PAD leaders already in custody were freed on Thursday on the lesser charge, a major blow to the government and police who had been hoping to decapitate the protest movement by gradually picking off its leadership.

In another sign of the tide flowing against the ruling People Power Party (PPP), state prosecutors said they were forwarding to the Constitutional Court an Election Commission recommendation that the PPP be disbanded for vote fraud.

Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat has cancelled weekend visits to neighbouring Laos and Cambodia, his spokesman said on Friday.

TREASON CHARGES

The original treason charges against the PAD leaders date from Aug. 27, the day after protesters armed with golf clubs, stakes and machetes stormed a state television station, broke into ministries and overran the prime minister’s official compound.

They have been at Government House ever since, making it the heart of a long-running anti-government campaign that spilled over into running battles with riot police this week in which two people died and more than 400 were injured.

Several police officers were shot, one was skewered with a flag pole and another was run over by a truck.

The PAD said it plans a major rally in front of the national police headquarters on Monday to denounce what it calls “police brutality against unarmed protesters”.

Police have denied PAD claims they fired explosives into the crowd this week, insisting they only used teargas.

Several doctors at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok’s top medical school, have launched a campaign to deny medical services to police or politicians involved in the clashes, the worst street violence in Thailand in 16 years.

Queen Sirikit has donated 1 million baht ($29,200) to help treat the injured, including the police, and sent a wreath to the funeral of a 28-year-old woman killed in Tuesday’s clashes.

MORAL CLOUT

PAD leaders trumpeted the latter action as explicit support for their cause from the palace, which wields enormous moral clout in a country where the king is seen by many as a demi-god.

The unrest has distracted policymakers from focusing on slowing economic growth and the fallout from the global credit crisis. Consumer confidence hit a 10-month low in September.

The political crisis dates back to late 2005, when the PAD first started its street protests against then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. It has meandered through a military coup to elections and back to street protests.

Pressure is mounting on army chief Anupong Paochinda to launch another coup, even though he has repeatedly stressed that it would do nothing to defuse the underlying political tensions.

In a front-page interview with the Bangkok Post on Friday, former army chief and ex-premier Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, who resigned from the cabinet on Tuesday to take responsibility for the police action, said a coup was the only solution.

“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,” he was quoted as saying.

Date created : 2008-10-10

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