THAILAND: Thai rally today to press for a return to democracy
Organisers expect crowd of 2,000 as pressure mounts on military to justify coup
Wednesday, November 1, 2006
By Nirmal Ghosh
Bangkok --- Pressure is mounting on Thailand's military-backed government to justify the September 19 coup d'etat and to return democratic rights to the people.
This afternoon, the biggest pro-democracy protest since the coup is scheduled to take place at the Sanam Luang grounds in central Bangkok.
Organisers from a previously unknown network who call themselves dCode - the 'd' stands for democracy - said they expect to attract 2,000 people.
That would be a significant leap from the 300 or less who have so far taken part in the small pro-democracy marches which have been tolerated by the military.
Today's rally would challenge martial law rules prohibiting political assembly in public.
In recent weeks, calls to lift martial law and reinstate the 1997 Constitution abolished by the generals have been growing.
There are also demands to show progress in investigating ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra and his close Cabinet colleagues.
Thailand's military-installed Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said yesterday he was willing to hold talks with Mr Thaksin if the exiled former premier wanted to arrange a formal meeting.
"If there was a formal arrangement to meet me, I am not a stubborn person. I am always open for talks, but so far there has been no such contact," Mr Surayud told reporters after returning from a regional summit in Nanning, China.
"I want to repeat that I am ready and open for discussions," he said.
There has also been increasing criticism of Privy Council president General Prem Tinsulanonda, who is widely believed to have orchestrated the coup.
The 86-year-old former premier is the King's top adviser who himself enjoys iconic status as an elder statesman.
But at a press conference yesterday, a member of dCode - a businessman who asked not be named - said: 'The only way out of this is the downfall of General Prem and General Sonthi Boonyarataglin.
"In any other country they would now try and get Thaksin back. If Thaksin did anything illegal by all means bring him to court," he said.
"We have nothing to do with Mr Thaksin, we don't care if he comes back or not. We stayed quiet because we were waiting for an election."
The businessman added: "We just want our Constitution back. If people want to change it we don't mind, but it has to be done legally, not at gunpoint."
Meanwhile, squabbles are emerging within the newly appointed administration.
A leak from Auditor-General Khunying Jaruwan Maintaka's office implied that Deputy Prime Minister Pridiyathorn Devakula had improperly sat on some committees in the previous administration.
On Monday, Mr Pridiyathorn dismissed that charge as an attempt to ruin his reputation.
There is also growing speculation that the military will sponsor or support a new political party to fight elections due in about a year, in order to continue pulling strings behind an elected government.
On Monday, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva warned: "Political history has shown military leaders who try to stay on in power cannot do so for very long."
Reacting to the speculation, Gen Sonthi said that it was up to individual members of the Council for National Security whether they wanted to get involved in politics.
Date Posted: 11/1/2006