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Demonstrators greet Prime Minister Thaksin at launch of commemorative book and film
Sunday, August 20, 2006
By Apiradee Treerutkuarkul Subin Khuenkaew
Opponents spoiled caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's day at a downtown shopping centre yesterday by shouting at him, leading to a clash with his security guards. Mr Thaksin was stunned by an unexpected protest as he went to Siam Paragon shopping centre to kick off the launch of a commemorative book and film about the exhibition held to commemorate His Majesty the King's 60 years on the throne.
His opponents, including students, held a protest during the event, leading to a clash with his supporters and security guards.
The incident led to stricter security for the premier last night as a swarm of uniformed and plainclothes police tightly guarded Sala Chalermkrung Royal Theatre where he, his wife Khunying Potjaman and cabinet members went to see a khon, or Thai masked dance based on the performance of "Hanuman the Mighty".
Those gathering in front of the theatre, if found without a ticket, were asked to leave the premises.
Yurachat Chatsuthichai, 19, one of the protesters at Siam Paragon, said he was punched in the head and face and later dragged out of the shopping mall's compound by three men who acted and dressed like security guards accompanying Mr Thaksin and some cabinet members.
The second-year student of Bangkok University's faculty of communication arts said he went there to protest against Mr Thaksin with around 20 members of the Rang Kid Group, a network of university and high school students opposed to the prime minister.
The group planned to start the protest after the launch ceremony ended as they did not want to interfere with the auspicious event.
But before the end a child standing next to him shouted: "Thaksin get out", then a group of plainclothes security guards stormed the scene and started to hit him, said Mr Yurachat.
"I fell down and tried to break free from their grip, but failed. I told the guards that I'm just a student coming here to express my opinion, but they did not listen and continued to assault me physically and verbally," he said.
Mr Yurachat, who suffered minor bruises to his face and mouth, was later set free with help from a man who was with the anti-Thaksin group.
A number of shoppers interviewed criticised the protest, saying the timing was wrong.
They said they saw five people who shouted at Mr Thaksin and other Thai Rak Thai members, including government spokesman Surapong Suebwonglee and caretaker Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan.
Some of the protesters wore black, which was inappropriate for a function organised to honour the King's Diamond Jubilee celebrations, said Pranee Bunmeesab, who went to buy the book.
"It was very inappropriate of them to sabotage the well-wishing event and make it unnecessarily chaotic," the 72-year-old woman said.
Mr Thaksin, protected by security men, left shortly afterwards.
The prime minister said later that he was not surprised by the protest as they usually take place before national elections, but he disagreed with the way his opponents acted yesterday.
"If they don't want to vote for me, wait until Oct 15. This is not the right way to express opinions in a democratic country," he said.
Meanwhile, 500km away in Phitsanulok, nearly 10,000 northerners joined yesterday's anti-Thaksin rally organised by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) in Muang district.
Dissatisfaction with Mr Thaksin had been snowballing, claimed PAD coordinator Suriyasai Katasila, especially after the "mafia-like" clash at Siam Paragon yesterday.
Over 200 uniformed and plainclothes police and soldiers were employed to maintain order as PAD supporters from five provinces in the lower north gathered at a defunct rice mill, which was the rally venue.
Four PAD leaders, led by publisher Sondhi Limthongkul, took to the stage in the absence of Maj-Gen Chamlong Srimuang.
Date Posted: 8/20/2006
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