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Thai deputy PM pressed to grant amnesty for all 'political prisoners'

Publication Date : 30-01-2013


Thai Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung found himself in an awkward situation yesterday when red-shirt protesters cornered and pressured him in front of the Government House to give a promise on a formal amnesty.

Chalerm appeared confident when he jumped on the sound truck before some 1,000 red-shirt protesters - only to be red-faced soon after when the protesters refused to let him leave until he gave them a promise of amnesty for all red-shirt "political prisoners".

The protesters led by Suda Rangkuphan, a lecturer at Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Arts, gathered at the Royal Plaza at 9:15am.

They demanded the government grant an amnesty to all political prisoners through charter amendments as proposed by the Nitirat group of Thammasat University lecturers.

The group later moved from the Royal Plaza to rally in front of Government House. They kept on shouting "29 January - Releasing political prisoners" and "Power to the people". They demanded that Cabinet send a representative to accept their demands for adding a chapter on an amnesty and on political reconciliation to the charter.

When the atmosphere heated up, Chalerm left Government House to answer the demands.

After he jumped on the sound truck, he tried to sound friendly with the protesters, saying he was on the same side as the red-shirts. He said the prime minister was busy with the Cabinet meeting so she had sent him to meet them.

While Chalerm kept on boasting about his performance in stepping up legal cases against the previous government related to red-shirt crackdowns, he was interrupted by a red-shirt leader, Mainueng Kor Kunthee, who was also on the sound truck.

Mainueng reminded Chalerm that red-shirts rallied yesterday because they would like to know the government's stand on political prisoners.

Mainueng said Chalerm must pass on their demands to Cabinet - and it would have to inform the demonstrators of its decision by yesterday evening.

Chalerm tried to please the protesters by telling Mainueng he should not call red-shirt detainees "political prisoners" because they had done nothing wrong.

Mainueng argued that as the red-shirt detainees had done nothing wrong, why had the government not released them? The question appeared to put Chalerm in an awkward spot.

He initially declined to promise that Cabinet would be able to make a decision about an amnesty informally and inform the protesters by that evening.

Chalerm was allowed to leave only after he promised that Cabinet would send representatives to meet them at the Royal Plaza at 6pm to tell them of the Cabinet's decision.

PM's deputy secretary-general Tawat Boonfueng went to the rally venue last night, took to the stage and said such a law could not be pushed and finished in one day but the government would work on it.

January 29 group leader Suda Rangkuphan, who tried to calm the protesters, said on the stage that the group would allow the government to take action within the current parliamentary session, which will finish in April.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said she had assigned Chalerm to receive the proposal and gather versions of laws presented for the government to consider. Legal experts, especially the Council of State, would then look into the matter.

Red-shirt leader Thida Thavornseth said yesterday Deputy Commerce Minister Natthawut Saikua, one of the red-shirt leaders, was assigned to cooperate with the government on the group's version of the amnesty law, which differs from that of Nitirat and the "29 January" Group.

The Nitirat Group proposed an amnesty bill as part of a changes to the constitution. The amnesty would cover all "political prisoners" including those detained due to lese majeste cases, but would exclude state officials, while the red shirt-sponsored draft would be in the form of an executive decree. Leaders of the rallies and state officials would not get an amnesty.


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