Protesters unfazed

national January 23, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

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Emergency has no impact; Paradorn says focus will be on arresting key leaders not on dispersal of protesters

It was business as usual for anti-government protesters yesterday despite the state of emergency declared on Tuesday by the caretaker government, as they continued their marches and blockades and went to rally sites at will, as the government’s anti-protest centre has yet to spell out details on decree-enabled measures.

Supporters of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee surrounded the Office of the Permanent Secretary for Defence yesterday morning, defying an emergency restriction that bars political gatherings, to disrupt a key meeting of senior government officials on measures they were about to issue, forcing them to flee.

Another group of protesters, attached to the hardline Students and People’s Network for Thailand’s Reform, converged in front of the Royal Thai Police compound, and removed the metal fonts displaying the authority’s name, and replaced them with a spray-painted STR abbreviation. In Samut Prakan, a group of protesters blockaded the Phra Pra Daeng district office.

The Yingluck Shinawatra government was expected to issue, within 48 hours after the decree was announced, measures granted under the draconian law on how to cope with any act that it deemed unruly. The aborted meeting  failed to do so, and a statement by the government’s anti-protest Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order (CMPO), which is situated at the office of the  Permanent Secretary for Defence, a few hours later only announced non-strategic issues.

Labour Minister and CMPO director Chalerm Yoobamrung later made a statement, saying the CMPO’s motto was “Returning Happiness to Bangkokians”, through five principles, including the use of law, focus on negotiations rather than force, allow peaceful gathering and seeking respect for non-protesters’ rights by the protesters.

The proposed measures would be made public in government documents by January 27.

In spite of the authority granted under the state of emergency, the caretaker government would not disperse anti-government crowds at rally sites but would rather maintain the key objective of apprehending core leaders, National Security Council secretary-general Paradorn Pattanatabut, the CMPO secretary, said yesterday.

Asked whether the authorities would “reclaim” areas occupied by PDRC supporters, Paradorn said: “We would not aim to do so, but rather focus on action to be taken against the core leaders. And after the core leaders are taken care of, the crowds would understand the situation, and by communicating with the protesters that unlawful acts [rally activities] had been committed, the situation would get better,” he added.

He ruled out the use of curfews among the measures that would be later adopted. “The combined use of both mliitary and police units under the state of emergency would depend on the circumstances through coordination,” he said, responding to questions over whether the military would be deployed as a secondary force, behind the police, as the government was having a doubt whether it could command the military after it declared the state of emergency.

Asked how the police, who would mainly carry out operations, could apprehend core protest leaders including Suthep Thaugsuban if they did not reclaim the areas, he said action would be taken in certain circumstances in a non-violent manner. “There would be no crowd dispersal, but occupied areas would be reopened through particular means,” he added.

National police chief Pol Gen Adul Sangsingkaew said later that the deployment and responsibilities of the police under the CMPO would be similar to the previous structures. He echoed Paradorn’s statement that the police would not engage in violent crowd dispersal. “What could be done is stricter enforcement of laws through [future] measures granted under the state of emergency,” he added.

Army Commander General Prayuth Chan-ocha said that the Army would be closely monitoring the political situation under the state of emergency in Bangkok, and insisted that if violence erupted and the situation spiralled out of control, the Army will have to intervene to settle the problems.

He said the Army would be supporting the police, the main agency authorised by the decree to handle the situation.

The Army has assigned 40 companies of troops to provide security apart from setting up more than 30 joint checkpoints with the police, and 20 checkpoints manned solely by the soldiers.

First Army Division commander Maj-General Wara Boonyasit said 100 troops on 50 motorcycles serving in his unit would be on patrol around rally sites starting last night. He was speaking after he made an inspection visit to PDRC-hosted rally sites.

An NSC source commented that the absence of military officers in the CMPO personnel suggested the military was not in full support of the decree or the government.

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