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Speaker under fire over crackdown

Democrats fume over 'gavel master's' use of House police to keep order

OPPOSITION Democrat MPs cried foul yesterday when anti-riot police were called in after bedlam broke out during the joint deliberation of a charter amendment, calling the move an act of intimidation and demanding that the Parliament president take responsibility. "This is not a police state here," a Democrat shouted.

Although the meeting began at 9.30am, parliamentarians had not actually considered at press time the contents of the charter amendment related to the election of senators and their qualifications and authority. The meeting had to take a break from time to time because of the Democrat Party's protests.

Earlier, Parliament President Somsak Kiatsuranont, nicknamed "Gavel Master", pounded his gavel for the first time during the meeting to restore order in the chamber. However, his move was greeted by boos and by MPs standing up in protest.

Somsak then instructed Parliament police to remove any lawmakers who refused to sit down. There was some pushing and shoving and Democrat MPs scuffled with police. Somsak had to suspend proceedings.

When the meeting reconvened, lawmakers from the Democrat Party told Parliament deputy president Nikom Wiratpanich, who chaired the meeting, that a company of anti-riot police were in front of Parliament.

Niphit Intarasombat accused Somsak of ordering the Metropo-litan Police to send anti-riot police to keep order in the chamber. "Somsak must order the police to refrain from using force or we won't give any cooperation," he warned. "Why do you allow the police to threaten us?" he said.

After several protests from the Democrats, Nikom ordered his secretary to check if it was true and ordered a break.

After the break, Nikom informed the meeting that there was no longer any police around as he had told them to go back to their headquarters. They came here just to help with traffic and they did not enter the building, he said.

Democrat MPs persisted with their complaints. Thepthai Senpong used a photo of the police on his iPad to show they were commandos.

"I want to know who gave the order. MPs have immunity during Parliament session. Police can't arrest us," Democrat MP Teerachard Pangviroonrugs said.

Somsak, who had taken a break, returned to the meeting to provide an explanation. He said it was the chief security officer of Parliament who had decided to ask the Metropolitan Police to send forces.

"Because I called all Parliament police to [keep order] in the chamber, there were no other officers left to provide security outside. I thought he made the right decision and the police did not come into the meeting room," he said before leaving.

However, Democrat MP Witthaya Kaewparadai demanded that Somsak take responsibility for the anti-riot police and ordering Parliament police to escort out those refusing to sit down. Some senior Democrat legislators were hurt when police tried to remove them. Others demanded the setting up of a house ethics committee to probe Somsak, which he accepted.

"Somsak should not let the blame fall on a parliament official. He should apologise to the members. The dictatorial regime is over," Witthaya said.

After another break, Democrat MP Buddhipongse Punnakanta refuted Somsak's clarification about the use of outside police. He played a video and said police were already standing by at Dusit Zoo opposite Parliament, and were deployed even before the chaos in the chamber.

They were not traffic police as claimed by Somsak he said.


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