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Thailand will help with any Rohingya investigation: PM

Posted by Rattana_S On December - 7 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

(Reuters) – Thailand will help the United Nations and the United States with any investigation into the findings of a Reuters report that Thai immigration officials moved Myanmar refugees into human-trafficking rings, the prime minister said on Saturday.

The United Nations and the United States called on Friday for an investigation into the report, published on Thursday and based on a two-month investigation in three countries, that revealed a clandestine policy to remove Rohingya refugees from Thai immigration detention centers and deliver them to human traffickers waiting at sea.

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who chairs a government committee on human trafficking, declined to comment on the findings when asked about her reaction.

“I cannot comment on the Rohingya issue and reaction as this is the responsibility of the Foreign Ministry to handle,” she said in a comment to Reuters, delivered through an aide.

“The ministry will liaise with the United States and the U.N. to help with any investigation they need.”

The Rohingya are stateless Muslims from Myanmar, also known as Burma. Clashes between Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists exploded in Myanmar last year, making 140,000 people homeless, most of them Rohingya.

Since then, tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled from Myanmar by boat and many arrive off southwest Thailand.

After being delivered to human traffickers at sea, the Rohingya are transported across southern Thailand and held hostage in camps hidden near the border with Malaysia until relatives pay ransoms to release them, according to the Reuters report. Some are beaten and some are killed.

“These allegations need to be investigated urgently,” U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Vivian Tan said in a statement.

The United States issued a similar call hours later.

“We are aware of reports alleging that Thai officials have been involved in selling Rohingya migrants to human traffickers,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said. “We urge the Thai government to conduct a serious and transparent investigation into the matter.”

SANCTIONS RISK

Major General Chatchawal of the Royal Thai Police was quoted in the Reuters report as saying that there was an unofficial policy to deport the Rohingya to Myanmar.

He called this “a natural way or option two”. But he said the Rohingya signed statements in which they agree they want to return to Myanmar.

These statements, however, were at times produced in the absence of a Rohingya-language translator, Reuters found.

New York-based watchdog group Human Rights Watch criticized Thailand for moving detainees into established smuggling and trafficking rings, and warned Thailand could face a possible downgrade in a U.S. list of the world’s worst enforcers of human-trafficking laws.

Such a downgrade would place Thailand, a close U.S. ally and Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy, at risk of U.S. sanctions and put it on par with North Korea and Iran among the worst performers in fighting human trafficking.

The U.S. State Department is gathering information for its next Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report, due in June. Thailand faces an automatic downgrade to Tier 3, the lowest rank, unless it makes “significant efforts” to improve its record in combating trafficking, the State Department says. The Tier 3 designation could leave Thailand subject to U.S. sanctions.

Sek Wannamethee, a spokesman for Thailand’s Foreign Ministry, said earlier that the Rohingya issue was one of several the United States would take into consideration before deciding on Thailand’s grade.

Nine people have been arrested in Thailand in relation to Rohingya smuggling in 2013, including two government officials, according to police data. None of the arrests has led to convictions.

Thailand prosecuted 27 people for trafficking in 2012, down from 67 the previous year, according to the 2013 TIP Report by the U.S. State Department.

(Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Robert Birsel and Ron Popeski)

Confrontation between the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and protesters led by veteran politician Suthep Thaugsuban appeared set to resume today, as support for both sides was being mobilized yesterday.

After a truce reached in respect of His Majesty the King for the royal birthday yesterday, both sides were preparing for a resumption of their confrontation.

More protesters from the provinces, particularly from the South, will travel to Bangkok today to take part in the street demonstrations, according to some protest supporters. Also, red-shirt supporters will hold a pro-government rally in Ayutthaya next week, according to a red-shirt leader.

The government’s Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order (CAPO) convened yesterday afternoon to assess the situation and prepare for coping with renewed demonstrations, Interior Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan said.

Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, who is now in charge of the CAPO, called the meeting, which was also attended by Charupong, Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Promnog, Defence Ministry permanent secretary General Nipat Thonglek, and national police chief Pol General Adul Sangsingkaew.

Nipat said before the meeting that the situation remained fluid as the protesters planned to continue with their street rallies. “We have to prepare for the new moves,” he said.

In Phuket, local protest leader Amnuay Kumban said that while a parallel rally would be resumed in the island province, a “considerably large number” of new protesters would be joining the anti-government demonstration in Bangkok. He said that from today, volunteers would be asked to sign up for the Bangkok protest.

More protesters are also expected to arrive from other southern provinces, such as Nakhon Si Thammarat and Songkhla, according to local leaders and sympathisers. They will mainly travel by train and bus to the capital.

In Songkhla, security guards have been trained to provide safety for the protesters in Bangkok, according to Chalee Noppawong, director of a local radio station who has raised funds for protesters from the province. He said that from today, new protesters would begin travelling to Bangkok, mostly by bus.

Meanwhile, red shirts planned a mass rally in Ayutthaya next Tuesday to defend the government and Parliament, Pheu Thai MP and red-shirt leader Weng Tojirakarn said yesterday.

He said the red shirts would express their stand that they would fight to the end to defend the government and Parliament from being toppled by Suthep.

Weng said he expected that tens of thousands of red shirts would join the demonstration after their leaders decided not to rally in Bangkok to avoid confrontation with the anti-government side.

He said Suthep was following in the footsteps of Sondhi Limthongkul, a former leader of the yellow-shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy. Weng warned Suthep against attempting to seize Suvarnabhumi Airport as Sondhi did when he led protesters to demonstrate against the People Power government.

Weng said Suthep was running out of moves for his political game and he should not resort to an airport seizure as part of his plan to beat the government, which he would announce today.

Weng added that Suthep could not cite the events of October 14, 1973, to invoke Article 7 of the Constitution to seek a royally granted prime minister. Weng said the situation was different because in 1973, the dictatorial government declared a self-coup before seeking a royally appointed PM.

Thailand protest leader gives PM ‘two-day ultimatum’

Posted by Rattana_S On December - 2 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

Thai protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban says he has met PM Yingluck Shinawatra and given her two days to “return power to the people”.

Mr Suthep said the meeting had been held under the auspices of the military and there was no compromise.

He did not say what action would follow if the ultimatum were not heeded.

On the eighth day of action to unseat the PM, police fended off protesters who descended on key sites in Bangkok. Four people have died in the unrest.

Dozens have been injured.

The protesters had declared Sunday the decisive “V-Day” of what they termed a “people’s coup”.

They say Ms Yingluck’s administration is controlled by her brother, exiled ex-leader Thaksin Shinawatra, and they want to replace it with a “People’s Council”.

Mr Suthep said he had met the prime minister in a secret location in the presence of the army, navy and air force commanders.

“There was no negotiation and no compromise,” Mr Suthep was quoted as saying.

“I told Yingluck that this is the only and last time I see her until power is handed over to the people.

“There will be no bargaining and it must be finished in two days.”

Some 30,000 protesters had gathered earlier at about eight sites, police said, including Government House, television stations and the police headquarters.

Protesters did enter several TV stations to ensure a message from Mr Suthep was aired. It was broadcast by almost all of Thailand’s channels.

He called a general strike for government employees for Monday.

The BBC’s Jonathan Head in Bangkok says protesters had approached their targets in cheering, colourful columns, but could not get past the clouds of gas and concrete barricades.

Ms Yingluck had intended to give media interviews on Sunday at a Bangkok police complex but was forced to leave when protesters tried to break in.

A police spokesman, Piya Utayo, said security forces would be deployed to take back “government property” occupied by protesters in the past week.

However, many protesters remain on the streets and the weekend’s violence marks a sharp escalation of the unrest.

Deputy PM Pracha Promnok urged people in the capital to stay indoors from 22:00 to 05:00 local time (15:00-22:00 GMT) “so they will not become victims of provocateurs”.

Election ruled out

The worst violence occurred when students attacked vehicles bringing pro-government activists to a Bangkok stadium on Saturday.

Early on Sunday, pro-government “red shirt” leaders said they were ending their mass rally at the stadium to allow security forces to police rival demonstrations.

Up until Saturday the protests had been largely peaceful, with Ms Yingluck saying the government would only use minimum force.

Soldiers were then called in to help the riot police.

Our correspondent says military commanders have been reluctant to get involved but agreed to deploy the troops on condition they would carry no weapons and would stand behind riot police ringing the main government offices.

There is a high risk of greater violence if more supporters of Ms Yingluck – whose party enjoys strong backing outside Bangkok – try to come to the capital, our correspondent adds.

On Friday Ms Yingluck ruled out early elections, telling the BBC that the country was not calm enough for polls. She repeated her call for negotiations to resolve the crisis.

Thailand is facing its largest protests since 2010, when thousands of red-shirt Thaksin supporters occupied key parts of the capital. More than 90 people, mostly civilian protesters, died over the course of the two-month sit-in.

(Reuters) – About 30,000 protesters launched a “people’s coup” on Thailand’s government on Sunday, swarming multiple state agencies in violent clashes, taking control of a broadcaster and forcing the prime minister to flee a police compound.

Police fired teargas on protesters who hurled stones and petrol bombs in demonstrations that paralyzed parts of Bangkok and followed a night of gun and knife battles in which two people were killed and at least 54 wounded.

A group of protesters forced Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to evacuate to an undisclosed location from a building where she had planned to give media interviews, while hundreds seized control of state broadcaster Thai PBS, waving flags and tooting whistles.

Declaring Sunday “V-Day” in a week-long bid to topple Yingluck and end her family’s more than decade-long influence over Thai politics, protest leaders urged supporters to seize 10 government offices, six television stations, police headquarters and the prime minister’s offices in what they are calling a “people’s coup”.

Police said the protesters had gathered in at least eight locations. In at least three of them, police used teargas and water canons.

National police spokesman Piya Utayo said troops were being sent to a government complex occupied by protesters since Thursday and the Finance Ministry, occupied since Monday. “We have sent forces to these places to take back government property,” he said on national television.

It is the latest dramatic turn in a conflict pitting Bangkok’s urban middle class and royalist elite against the mostly rural poor supporters of Yingluck and her billionaire brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister ousted in a 2006 military coup.

Reuters journalists waiting to interview Yingluck inside the police Narcotics Suppression Bureau were told by Natthriya Thaweevong, an aide for the prime minister, that she had left after protesters made it inside the outer part of the compound, the Police Sports Club, where the bureau is located.

In the early afternoon, protesters massed in front of a police barricade outside Wat Benjamabhopit, also known as the Marble Temple. Police fired teargas as some protesters tried to heave aside the heavy concrete barriers.

The deep detonation of stun grenades, followed by the jeers of protesters, echoed across the historic quarter.

“I just want the people named Shinawatra to get on a plane and go somewhere – and please, don’t come back to our country again,” said Chatuporn Tirawongkusol, 33, whose family runs a Bangkok restaurant.

PETROL BOMBS

Outside the Metropolitan Police Bureau, about 3,000 protesters rallied, accusing riot-clad police of being manipulated by Thaksin, a former policeman who rose to become a telecommunications magnate before entering politics and winning back-to-back elections in 2001 and 2005.

Chamai Maruchet Bridge, north of Government House, the prime minister’s offices, was a scene of nearly non-sop skirmishes, as police repeatedly fired teargas into the stone-throwing crowd, Reuters witnesses said. Protesters gathered near barricades spray-painted with the words “Failed State”.

A Reuters photographer saw protesters hurl at least a dozen petrol bombs into police positions from a college campus across a canal from Government House.

In one of the most dramatic events, state broadcaster Thai PBS was taken over by protesters, according to PBS and police. More than 250 mostly black-shirted protesters gathered in the parking lot, as others streamed in.

The executive producer at Thai PBS, Surachai Pannoi, told Reuters the management of the station would share its broadcast line with Blue Sky, a broadcaster controlled by the opposition Democrat Party, starting this afternoon.

STREET BATTLES

Yingluck, who won a 2011 election by a landslide to become Thailand’s first female prime minister, has called for talks with the protesters, saying the economy was at risk after demonstrators occupied the Finance Ministry on Monday.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a deputy prime minister under the previous Democrat-led government that Yingluck’s party routed 2011, has ignored her and told demonstrators that laws must be broken to achieve their goals.

The Democrats, Thailand’s oldest political party, have not won an election in more than two decades and have lost every national vote for the past 13 years to Thaksin or his allies.

Suthep has called for a “people’s council”, which would select “good people” to lead, effectively suspending Thailand’s democratic system. Yingluck has rejected that step as unconstitutional and has ruled out a snap election.

Thailand faces its worst political crisis since April-May 2010, a period of unrest that ended with a military crackdown. In all, 91 people were killed then, mostly Thaksin’s supporters trying to oust the then-Democrat government.

Suthep faces murder charges for his alleged role in the ordering crackdown.

Police tightened security after clashes on Saturday between supporters and opponents of Yingluck near a sports stadium where about 70,000 red-shirted government supporters had gathered. Five big shopping malls closed their doors in Bangkok, underscoring the economic impact of the protests.

One “red shirt” government supporter was shot and killed outside the stadium early on Sunday, after a 21-year-old student was fatally shot several hours earlier.

A red-shirt leader, Jatuporn Promphan, said four red shirts had been killed but Reuters only confirmed one, 43-year-old Viroj Kemnak. Fifty-four people were wounded, according to the government’s Erawan emergency center.

Thousands of government supporters began to disperse, returning on buses to their homes in the north after their rally was called off in a bid to defuse tensions.

Seventeen battalions of 150 soldiers each, along with 180 military police, all unarmed, were called in to boost security ahead of the demonstrators’ Sunday deadline for ousting the government.

Thaksin, who won over poor rural and urban voters with populist policies, was convicted of graft in 2008. He dismisses the charges as politically motivated and remains in close touch with the government from his self-imposed exile, sometimes holding meetings with Yingluck’s cabinet by webcam.

(This story was refiled to add dropped word in headline)

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