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Thailand's top military brass to step into political crisis

Publication Date : 01-04-2014

 

In a rare move, top military leaders will meet tomorrow to discuss a possible solution for the country at a time of political deadlock and likely confrontation between pro- and anti-government groups this Saturday.

Armed Forces Supreme Commander General Tanasak Patimapragorn has invited top military commanders - Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha, Navy chief Adm Narong Pipatanasai, and Air Force chief ACM Prajin Juntong - for a meeting with him tomorrow, a source familiar with the matter said yesterday.

The Supreme Commander felt that if the political deadlock was allowed to continue further, more damage would be done to the country, according to the source, who said the number of tourist arrivals had greatly declined.

This move by the military was not aimed at pressuring any side in particular, but intended to find a way out for the country, according to the source, who is a senior officer in the armed forces.

The source ruled out any chance of a coup, saying it would not be a "perfect way" to solve the problems and that the military had learned lessons from the past.

The red shirts plan their rally on Saturday, a week after the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee held its mass marches in Bangkok.

The military's move came as caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra met with the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) on the last day of a deadline she was given, to explain allegations of her condoning corruption and dereliction of duty, in regard to the controversial rice price-pledging scheme.

The national anti-graft agency will decide today whether to grant Yingluck's request yesterday for additional testimony from 10 more witnesses and to submit more documents to support her case in its investigation, Prasart Pongsivapai, a member of the NACC, said. The NACC would base its decision on relevant laws and it would see whether there was a need to question more witnesses, Prasart said.

If the NACC agrees to the PM's request, the case will be delayed further. The agency was earlier expected to make its decision about the case during April. A decision to pursue the case would mean Yingluck would be likely to face an impeachment motion in the Senate, and a possible legal case with the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Political Office Holders.

More than 400 billion baht (US$12 billion) in state funding has been lost in the scheme, which buys rice from farmers at well over the market price.

The prime minister is accused of failing to prevent corruption in the loss-making and graft-plagued scheme.

Yingluck arrived at the NACC office yesterday afternoon with her lawyers and a number of Cabinet ministers. Only her lawyers and Justice Minister Chaikasem Nitisiri were allowed to accompany the PM in her meeting with the NACC commissioners.

Waiting for her was an army of reporters, photographers and cameramen. The PM wore a cast on her left foot and was seated on a wheelchair shortly after her arrival. She recently suffered a damaged ligament from a fall.

All five NACC commissioners took part in the meeting, which lasted about 30 minutes. The prime minister later left without giving any interviews to the media.

Prasart said yesterday that the caretaker prime minister's presence indicated that she accepted the scrutiny process. He said the PM defended herself in writing as well as verbally.

 

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