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THAILAND COUP: Ex-minister arrested while speaking to journalists

Publication Date : 28-05-2014


In the most public crackdown on dissent yet by Thailand's new military government, army officers in full uniform marched into a press conference where a former Cabinet minister was speaking to more than 100 journalists and arrested him.

Their target was Chaturon Chaisang, who was winding up an appearance at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT). He submitted to the arrest, saying it was expected.

Earlier, he had become the first member of the ousted government to publicly condemn last week's coup d'etat. He now faces a military tribunal and a potential two-year jail sentence.

Holding a press conference for foreign media was "deemed improper and against National Council of Peace and Order (NPCO) policy", army spokesman Winthai Sivari said after the episode.

Chaturon told The Straits Times: "I have done nothing wrong. I have no charges against me, anywhere. The only thing I have done is not report to the military, and now I face two years in prison for it."

The former minister was one of two in the Cabinet to refuse to report to the military regime. Sources say that the other, Jarupong Ruengsuwan, head of the Puea Thai party which ran the last government, is said to have fled to Cambodia.

The regime also appointed a six-member advisory committee. It includes two former army generals Prawit Wongsuwan and Anupong Paochinda. Others include former ministers who worked under Thaksin Shinawatra but quit - technocrats Wissanu Krue-ngam and Somkid Jatusripitak.

Pridiyathorn Devakula, who was briefly finance minister during military rule after the 2006 coup d'etat that ousted then premier Thaksin Shinawatra, is also on the committee.

More anti-coup protests yesterday drew a crowd of up to 300 at the Victory Monument intersection in downtown Bangkok, but apart from a few scuffles as police arrested some activists, a heavy security presence ensured the situation did not deteriorate into the dangerous melees that were seen on Sunday and Monday.

At the FCCT, Chaturon read from a prepared statement to say that the coup had been an "abrogation of democracy".

"A coup d'etat is not the solution to the problems or conflicts in Thai society," he said. "It will make the conflict even worse."

Chaturon, 58, was one of the leaders of a leftist student movement who fled a bloody right-wing crackdown in 1976, and spent years in hiding. After studying economics in the US, he returned to enter politics.

Before the press conference, in an exclusive interview with The Straits Times, he said: "There are different ideas of what reform means, and they are going to take this society in different directions."

The elites wanted to change the system, he contended, to guarantee that Thaksin and his supporters could never bring a government to power even if they won an election.

Explaining his decision to come out of hiding, he said: "I don't want to hide forever.

"I don't want to go to another country. I don't want to go underground. But I don't want to be arrested without the chance to say anything to the public. My intention is to fight for democracy, from here."

Minutes before he was arrested in the midst of the stunned journalists, Chaturon said: "I will not report to the military. I am not a student reporting to a teacher."

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