Sondhi gets jail time, bailed

9 08 2012

Readers will be interested in a brief story at The Nation that reports the sentencing of People’s Alliance for Democracy leader Sondhi Limthongkul to jail. As usual, it isn’t that simple, for he has been bailed on appeal.

The Rayong Provincial Court reportedly sentenced Sondhi “to two years in jail for defaming General Mongkol Ampornpisit, former chairman of the TPI Polene rehabilitation committee.” He also received a fine.

The lawsuit, dating from 2007, saw Mongkol claiming that Sondhi had defamed him in a broadcast talk show on 25 May that year. The report doesn’t note that Mongkol is a former close aide to Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda and a former supreme commander of the armed forces.

The short report says that the case revolved around Sondhi’s claim that “Mongkol had abused his authority to siphon money from TPI, which later changed its name to IRPC, by paying himself a huge salary as well as giving large fees to an advisory firm.” The Rayong Court decided that Sondhi was guilty and sentenced him to two years in jail, with no suspension of the term. As noted above, Sondhi has been released on bail pending his appeal.

The first point to make is that when advocates of the lese majeste law claim that it is “like the defamation law,” they can’t be believed. Sondhi gets immediate bail. Think of all the lese majeste cases where bail is refused again and again, and where sentences are regularly for 10-20 years.

On the case itself, and Sondhi’s involvement, the story is a longish one and PPT has to admit that we haven’t followed it too much. However, it is worth noting that General Prem’s associate General Mongkol was initially appointed to TPI by the Thaksin Shinawatra government. TPI was a festering sore amongst the companies that had crashed following the beginning of the 1997 economic crisis.  The Leophairatana family had refused to restructure the company as its debt mushroomed. As an incomplete Wikipedia page describes it:

When the crisis struck, it emerged that TPI owed US$3.2 billion in external debt to some four hundred creditors. In 1997, the group made exchange losses of … around 5 billion USD. All expansion plans were put on hold, and TPI entered into acrimonious negotiations with its creditors. In an attempt to retain control, Prachai [Leophairatana] put both the holding company and the cement firm, TPI Polene, into the bankruptcy court in 2000. Over the next five years, Prachai used lawsuits, political connections, public advertising, and nationalist posturing in his attempt to retain control. However, with … Thaksin Shinawatra’s term in office, …[and] a bankruptcy court ruling in 2005, the state-owned petroleum corporation PTT, became the major investor in TPI with a 30 percent stake and the family was reduced to a 15 percent minority.

Prachai also mounted media campaigns, painting himself as an injured party. General Mongkol was made head of the plan administrators charged with coming up with a debt restructuring plan for TPI. Prachai was eventually forced out and had to sell his remaining stock.

It is little wonder then, that Prachai became a solid member of the group of Sino-Thai businesspeople who opposed Thaksin and, some suggest, he became major funders to PAD. Readers might also recall that one of the cases that saw the Democrat Party get off charges that originated in the Election Commission, where Prachai and TPI Polene stood accused of an illegal transfer of funds to the Party. TPI Polene is still controlled by Prachai and his relatives (be aware that this is a large PDF, and if downloaded, read from about p. 143) and has continued to fight for it. There’s some more available on the story, indicating Prachai’s politics and his fallout with Thaksin.

Prachai has managed, despite once being Thailand’s largest debtor, kept his fortune, and is ranked 29th richest person in Thailand.

Sondhi appears to have appreciated Prachai’s support, and hence spoke for him and against General Mongkol. It should be added that the relationship between Prem and Sondhi has not been smooth, and this may be related to the Sondhi’s support of Prachai and his attack on General Mongkol. In addition, a major creditor to TPI was reportedly the Bangkok Bank, where Prem has long had connections and mutual support.





Royalist calls for capitalists to be overthrown

7 04 2012

Royalist Amorn Chantarasomboon, a former secretary-general of the Council of State, seems the wrong person to be calling for capitalists to be ousted. And yet he has been consistent in blaming capitalism for Thailand’s ills, including its political crisis.

Of course, while his call may sound radical, it is actually based on a deep conservatism. What they want is not some form of socialism but a monarchy presiding over commoners working away in sufficiency economy villages where people are kept well away from political decision-making.

Back in 2009, Amorn joined with a gaggle of royalists and People’s Alliance for Democracy-aligned sham academics to call for “comprehensive political reform. This was a “call for [the] removal of root causes of problem haunting the country” and to reassert that Thaksin Shinawatra is “funding unrest.” At that gathering of royalists, Amorn declared the political system “a dictatorship by capitalists…”.

Amorn, like many royalists, stated that “political reform should be undertaken by politicians, because they had a conflict of interest…”.

Nothing much has changed for Amorn, and at the Bangkok Post he now declares that the “courts of justice are facing mounting pressure from political parties that wield dominance over parliament…”. He referred to a “parliamentary dictatorship” of “parties which in turn are controlled by financiers.”

Here Amorn is being careful to denote a particular type of capitalists, but if “financiers” is the term used, we wonder if there are flutters of concern at the major financial institutions such as the Bangkok Bank and the Crown Property Bureau-controlled Siam Commercial Bank?

We doubt it, as these are royalist banks are unlikely to be included in Amorn’s attack on renewed attack on Thaksin. But it is interesting that the attack on capitalists – and Amorn is only one of the yellow extremists making this call – ignores the largest capitalist conglomerate in the country that is the CPB. That’s because Amorn has long called for royal powers to be increased. But then Amorn’s convoluted logic also includes a call for “the judiciary to … ensure their verdicts can benefit people and protect the private sector.”

Amorn had a role in the drafting of the 1997 constitution, and PPT has to wonder why Amorn is so unhappy with the 2007 constitution, which the military junta ensured that the judiciary had more power and an vastly expanded political role. Did their “fixing” of the constitution not go far enough or did they screw up?

As far as we can tell, the answer for Amorn is that any constitution that allows an electorate to choose their politicians is a problem. Amorn has been unable to believe that an electorate can consistently elect pro-Thaksin parties if they are not stupid, duped or paid.

The thing that motivates the diehard royalists is a political position that is based on a desire for rule by a few. They can’t abide any notion that the ruled should count, for they believe there are great and good ones who know best how a country should be administered. Amorn would have felt at home in the nineteenth century, and his pocket watch seems broken at about midnight on 23 July 1932.





Wealth and the floods

17 11 2011

The Bangkok Post reports that those good souls at the country’s biggest conglomerates are doing their bit for the victims of the flooding.

The Post reports that Thai Beverage Plc, Advanced Info Service, True Corp, Central Group, GMM Grammy, Muang Thai Life Assurance, ICC International, Bangkok Bank, Major Cineplex, Thai Union Frozen Products, BTS Group Holdings and Mitr Phol Sugar are getting together and planning to raise 100 million baht over eight months.

That sounds like a lot, right? Well, not really. Thai Beverage had sales of 121.7 billion baht in 2010 and a net profit of 10.7 billion baht. The boss of the company, Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, was reported to have a net worth of $4.3 billion in March 2011. The unlisted Central Group had total sales turnover over 119 billion baht in 2010 and probably pretty neat profits too. So 100 million from a dozen companies starts to sound a tad mean.

But wait, it isn’t all coming from them: “each business would contribute seed money and fund activities to raise more funds.” Yes, we know some of these companies have done more than this in recent days, but all this palaver in the Post is about public relations.

We suspect this statement from the Major Cineplex Group Chairman Vicha Poolvaraluck is much closer to a statement of how the big boys in town really think. He is reported to have stated: “We haven’t seen much impact in the short term [from the current floods]…. The massive flood is still better than the 1997 financial crisis when many millionaires went bankrupt. The flood disaster has affected middle- and low-income people the most.”

Better the lower classes take the hits than all those nice millionaires!





Lese majeste repression and the threat to Thai society

28 06 2011

PPT has been increasingly critical of the Bangkok Post’s abysmal and biased election coverage. For a change, we want to praise. In a recent article, Kultida Samabuddhi, a Deputy News Editor at the Post, says some thoughtful things on lese majeste.

Kultida claims that the “real time-bomb that could land the country in a tumult” is the “attempt by government agencies and right-wing groups to keep people in line by accusing them of disloyalty to the monarchy.” The article goes on to note that this “attempt has been intensifying over these past recent years and has become increasingly aggressive.” This is seen in the sharp rise in lese majeste charges.

Kultida observes that tracking down alleged lese majeste offenders seems to have “become the top priority for many state agencies.” Meanwhile other state officials spend their taxpayer-funded time taking “turns instructing people to help protect the monarchy. The officers also issue a warning that those who insult the monarchy will face serious legal action.”

Of course, the major “state agency” promoting loyalty and royalism is the Army under the careful watch of General Prayuth Chan-ocha. He himself has spoken out many times in support of the institution that sits atop the army chief’s vision of Thai society. Kultida notes recent Army interventions: “[a]n army-sponsored music video honouring the royal family was played on the Thai TV pool earlier this month. A documentary on Thaksin Shinawatra and the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship’s alleged acts of lese majeste was broadcast on several radio stations.”

It is easy to see the political intent of these actions.

Kultida can’t say all of this state-sponsored snooping, “protection” and self-serving politics, not to mention lese majeste repression, is all just loopy wrong: “State agencies have reason to step up their measures to protect the revered institution.”

PPT can speculate on the “reasons”: to arrest red shirts, to silence opposition critics, to bolster the political and cultural power of the military, to get a position on the Privy Council for an outgoing boss, to influence an election. Readers can probably come up with more.

But Kultida warns that these agencies and their bosses “should be careful because this move could bring about undesirable effects, too.” The author lists these: (1) “it could provoke hatred among members of the public against those alleged of being disloyal to the monarchy…”; and (2) “it could provoke discontent among the accused, who might feel that they are being unfairly charged or deprived of the freedom of thought.”

Kultida worries that “hatred and discontent” can easily result in violence. The author says that feelings are already “strong” and refers to “dangerous sentiments” that are about. An example is of a “media professional” on Facebook who threatened violence against historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul.

The latter is charged by General Prayuth with lese majeste and the general used denigrating words to describe Somsak. These words are essentially inciting such violence.

The government and the military claim to “protect the royal institution. But they have to make sure that their operations will not provoke hatred, which is like a time-bomb that could rip our nation apart if it explodes.”

For PPT, it is interesting to read such comments from the mainstream media. What they don’t really get into is the fact that the military, led by the Army, has long used protection of the monarchy as an excuse for whipping up hatred and right-wing violence. In fact, it is standard procedure. Why should anyone be surprised now, when the Army boss feels that the power structure that has cemented the Army in a privileged position is under threat.

PPT often gets forwarded emails from royalists who support the 2006 coup and the military. These are not about PPT but are filled with hate and calls for action. These are not emails that are from some loony fringe. The long list of recipients includes many in the Democrat Party, senior figures in businesses like the Bangkok Bank, NGO activists and plenty of aristocratic family names. They demand for an end to “restraint” as an implicit call to violence and more repression. If the Puea Thai Party does win the upcoming election, against all of the fixing, cheating and dirty campaigning, get ready for this hatred to intensify.

 





Sombat targets Prem and Bangkok Bank

8 05 2011

It was less than a month ago that Shawn Crispin at Asia Times Online declared Sombat Bunngamanong had “faded into obscurity,” apparently having been ousted in what one of Crispin’s anonymous sources said was a “silent coup” inside the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship that was supposedly upset by Sombat’s allegedly anti-monarchy activities.

As is usual with Crispin’s reporting, it is not possible to refute such allegations when they are based on sources that can’t be verified. However, to anyone who watches the internet and even local television, it is clear that Sombat is anything but “faded.”

In the Bangkok Post, it is reported today that the quirky Sombat is leading his Red Sunday group on a Sunday afternoon rally at the headquarters of the Bangkok Bank on Silom Road. Red Sunday is a ginger group that regularly maintains the spirits and activities of red shirts, often in iconoclastic ways.

Today Sombat is said that his rally is “a symbolic movement to put economic pressure on the Democrat-led coalition government.” Sombat and his supporters called on the bank’s clients to “withdraw all their deposits from the country’s largest commercial bank, given that president of the Privy Council Gen Prem Tinsulanonda is advisory chairman of the bank.”

In addition, the group called for “people to wear in black and turn out to the streets, if there is any military coup.”

Crispin might still think this is “obscurity.” PPT reckons it is clear that Sombat and Red Sunday have not given up the fight.





Who pays the parties?

28 03 2011

The Nation has an interesting (and biased) story reporting funding to the three main political parties.

For the Democrat Party, it says the Election Commission’s records show that last year the Party received just 1.38 million baht in donations from 197 people. This year, big Sino-Thai capitalists have been paying up:

Earlier this month, the party reported to the political party registrar that so far this year it had obtained Bt33.15 million from wealthy families connected to the Democrats, such as the Sophonpanichs (major shareholders of the Bangkok Bank), the Bhirombhakdis (who own the company [Boonrawd] that makes Singha Beer), the Chaisongkhrams, the Srivikorns, the Lamsams [Kasikorn Bank], the Thanadireks and Jirakitis.

There have also been donations of about Bt50 million from many of the country’s leading businesses. They include Benchachinda Holding, Yip In Tsoi, Mitr Phol Sugar, and … Advanced Info Service….

Some businesses are not just donors; relatives of their owners are in the Democrat Party. These include the Charoen Pokphand Group, Metro Machinery, and Singha Corp. Young members of some of these families are expected to contest the upcoming election as candidates of the main ruling party.

Of course, it was less than a month ago that the Democrat Party held a high-cost fundraiser that “has yet to report to the Election Commission about the sum raised but early reports put the figure over Bt700 million.” Big business was heavily represented.

Meanwhile, the coalition partner Bhum Jai Thai Party received “donations of almost Bt10 million last year, compared to as much as Bt35 million in 2009.”

The main donors are associated with Newin Chidchob and his family, including “Chiang Mai Construction – which is owned by the father-in-law of banned politician Newin Chidchob, who is regarded as the party’s de-facto leader – Sino-Thai Construction (owned by the family of party leader and Interior Minister Chaovarat Chanweerakul), and King Power.” These are the longstanding supporters.

Chaovarat’s company has done especially well from contracts for infrastructre under the Democrat Party regime.

Other supporters include:

… entertainment giant company GMM Grammy and East Water and wealthy figures with political backgrounds such as Somsak Thepsuthin, Sonthaya Khunplume, Sora-at Klinprathum, Suchart Tancharoen, and Teerapol Noprampa – who all are “political comrades” of Newin, who is believed to be pulling strings behind the party.

The story for Peua Thai Party is different, however. The Nation seems to speculate, saying that Thaksin Shinawatra remains the (assumed) biggest backer. It adds that the party “got donations of Bt15 million, according to the EC. Among the major donors were wealthy people close to Thaksin, including Virun Tejapaiboon, Ong-art Ua-apinyakul, and Pichai Naripthaphand.” It adds: “There are only a handful of regular financiers…”. It follows this up with a bunch of speculative comments.

It is clear where the Sino-Thai tycoons are putting their loot; it is with the royalist party. These days, they feel most comfortable being subordinated to the monarchy (as a symbol and the country’s biggest Sino-Thai conglomerate) and prtected by the military’s firepower.





China and royal propaganda

4 12 2010

A reader in China sends us a note:

China Daily on Friday 3rd December devoted four pages to the king of Thailand’s birthday. A quarter of one page was an advert from Banpu, half another page an advert for Bangkok Bank, and the entire fourth page an advert by CP Group. There was also a smaller advert from the Thai embassy in Beijing.

CP has had investments in China since the 1950s, perhaps unique among overseas capitalist enterprises in maintaining relations with the Chinese Communist Party. Bangkok Bank’s branch on Shanghai’s eponymous Bund waterfront is the same historic building as the Thai consulate. Banpu has number of industrial ventures in China.

What does this sponsored section say, if anything, about the nexus of interests between these corporations, the monarchical regime and China? Does this supplement tell anything about the future direction of relations between China and Thailand? How many other newspapers around the world featured sponsored sections of royal propaganda?

PPT had another thought. If it is only a paid supplement by the royalist Thai government, why in China? What is the message? Do they continue to believe that deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has influence with the regime in Beijing?





Suspicions

28 07 2010

There have only been a few stories that caught PPT’s attention in the past couple of days amidst by-elections, a bomb blast, the DSI trading accusations with red shirts and others, Thaksin Shinawatra’s birthday, flash protests by red shirts, and an apparently never-ending stream of stories regarding Princess Sirindhorn’s latest visit to China – seemingly essentially a holiday – that finished on 23 July but still screening long portions of the royal news four days later.

Some of the stories have raised questions for us, although PPT knows little more than what is reported in the media. We thought it might be useful to list them.

The first story relates to 28 July as Prince Vajiralongkorn’s birthday and he turns 58. As usual, newspapers have little advertisements that double as birthday felicitations to the prince. PPT only purchased the Bangkok Post, which had a one-page tribute and a series of the company-sponsored adverts. The whole thing is pretty low-key, kicked off with a large color picture of the prince at Wat Phra Kaew yesterday.

As PPT went through the color adverts, we noted they were from: Thai Airways, Boon Rawd Brewery, the Central group (the largest greeting, being a full page), CP Group and one all in Thai from Thai Beverage. The latter also posted a very large billboard celebrating the prince near Pan Fah Bridge (see the picture here). On the same day, PPT was reading The Bangkok Massacres: A Call for Accountability produced by Thaksin’s representatives, Amsterdam & Peroff LLP. On page 16, the report states: “The families controlling some of Thailand’s largest economic empires — among them Bangkok Bank, Kasikorn Bank, Thai Beverage, and TPI Polene — became fierce opponents of Thaksin.”

Maybe PPT was asleep at the wheel, but we hadn’t registered Thai Beverage as a major opponent previously. The company belongs to Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, the liquor, beer and land tycoon. Charoen has been pretty secretive. There’s a chapter on him by Nuolnoi Treerat in Pasuk and Baker’s Thai Capital After the 1997 Crisis (Silkworm). Recently he has been seen sponsoring royal events, including one of Princess Chulabhorn’s ventures. If Charoen has signed up with the royalists, then he has huge wealth and networks to build political support.

A second story is in the Bangkok Post and considers what is designated the “alleged ‘plan’ by Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij to change the current yuppiephone concession contracts…”. Then this is slipped in: “mortally wound Shin Corp and its No 1 network Advanced Info Service although that’s not the purpose, perish the thought…”. Given the “plan” is from Korn, a major yellow supporter, maybe this is the purpose. The story goes on to say that the “plan” has “thrown business, government, regulators and even the Senate into a tizzy; the kindest people said Mr Korn had good intentions, lousy planning; others were not so charitable; they noted that his plan to issue AIS, Dtac of Norway and True Move of Thailand with 15-year licences was highly questionable in legal terms…”.

The same column reminds us that Juti Krairiksh, said to be “minister of Internet Censorship in Thailand (MICT)” as well as “sniffing out dodgy websites” has “bragged that one of his greatest achievements was the arrest of three people who posted information critical of the monarchy.”

The third story relates to the Big C bombing and the Bangkok Post story that the “emergency decree will remain in place, at least in Bangkok, … Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva says.” Abhisit said that “some parties were determined to carry out dangerous acts and it was the duty of the authorities to try to stop them. That meant they needed the proper legal tools.” Proper legal tools mean the power to detain and anything else the government seems to want to do to opponents.

Just a day before, in the venerable Bangkok Post, Abhisit’s motor-mouthed personal spokesman Thepthai Senapong had attacked critics of the imposition of the emergency decree, saying the bombing proved that the decree was necessary. He added: “The old saying that there is a calm before the storm is still worth considering…”. There’s little doubt that the hardliners in the government, like Thepthai, want the emergency decree in place for a lot longer, benefit from every incident. Much of the cabinet is very twitchy about “security” and, as they have admitted, personally frightened.

The fourth and final story, also in the Bangkok Post, was buried down on about page 4, and the headline suggested to PPT that the Ministry of Justice was going to investigate allegations that a bribe attempt was made in the Department of Special Investigation missing jewellery scandal of a few days ago. But, no. The Justice Ministry was launching an investigation into the rumours themselves!

The rumours were that the “owner of a shop who complained three pieces of jewellery had disappeared from a Department storeroom had been offered 300,000 baht to retract her accusation.”

The “secretary to the justice minister, Fuangwit Aniruttaewa, said it was possible that the claims the jewellery had disappeared were the work of certain people in the ministry who wanted to discredit the justice minister and DSI director-general Tharit Pengdit.” Remarkably, Fuangwit disclosed that an “investigation” had “found the jewellery said to be missing from the DSI storeroom had not disappeared at all. The owner of the store, identified only as Ms Chayaphon, had been told the items had been located.”

Apparently, the three items had just been … well, we don’t know. Hanging off some rich lady perhaps? Miraculously, they have turned up! So what was going on inside the DSI that caused the jewellery to be lost and found at about the same time?





With 5 updates: A blood-letting seems inevitable

21 04 2010

Update 1: Lots of reports reaching PPT of large troop movements into central area of Bangkok and of office workers in buildings in and around the protest site being ordered to evacuate.

Update 2: Bangkok Post reports red shirts expect a crackdown. Also reports that “CRES ordered police to close  Rama IV Road to traffic from Henri Dunant intersection to Witthayu  Road intersection and to prevent people from joining the rally at Ratchaprasong intersection.” Police have “fortified red roadblocks around the Ratchaprasong area had been told to advise people suspected of trying to joining the red-shirt rally to stay away from the protest venue. They were being warned that if they took part in the demonstration, violators of the law  could face a maximum two years in jail and/or a 40,000 baht fine.”

Update 3: Silom’s anti-red shirts prepare – see this PDF (img-4211914-0001) of a pamphlet being handed out on Silom Road.

'No colours' leader speaks to media further down the Silom road, protesting against the red shirt occupation of Rajaprasong. (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

Update 4: From The Nation: “Calling the protesters terrorists and turning a normal political protest into a national security issue and a threat to the revered institution, is uncivilised and unfair.” But it works. Silom/Rama IV intersection is looking like the same kind of crowd that bayed for blood outside Thammasat University on 6 October 1976 in the name of nation, religion and monarchy. Some minor clashes already.

Update 5: Speculation on crackdown timing here.

***

Yesterday we posted on Silom occupied. There have been some great photos of this action by the government and military have come together to protect the Bangkok Bank and the section of the road that also includes CP Tower and many foreign businesses. Armed Thai capitalism? This emblematic photo, from the Bangkok Post, caught PPT’s attention.

More seriously, reading The Nation today, it seems the clash between red shirts and the military are just a matter of time now. One story, headlined “Red shirts, soldiers ready,” has the feel of a sports page assessment of opposing teams. But is it telling as well. PPT pointed to hotels being emptied and this report tells of shops removing merchandise – it does feel like they know/have been told. Red shirts “said that they’d know if soldiers were heading their way if the 24-hour convenience stores suddenly started shutting down and mobile phone signals were cut off.”

The second article is headlined “At daggers drawn” begins: “The stage seems set for operations to remove the red-shirted protesters … as the military boosted its forces while the protesters were in defensive mode yesterday, erecting barricades and assembling home-made weapons for the next battle.  The plan has been mapped out and Army commander Anupong Paochinda will make the final decision on when and how to clear the red protesters from the business area, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said.  If necessary for the operation, the military would declare martial law, Abhisit told reporters.”

Abhisit went further, showing conviction in his decisions that have so far cost 25 lives. He said: “Removing the protesters from the business area is a must-do mission for the government to maintain law and order as well as to protect the rule of law…”. He added: “We have to preserve the rule of law for our children in the future…”.

To preserve the rule of law for his children, Abhisit has more than 10,000 soldiers encircling the protesters, with not a few on rooftops above the red shirts. At the same time, the number of red shirts is increasing. The government, which always plays down the numbers, say up to 16,000 protesters; it is probably double or triple that and maybe more.

If The Nation is right, a second round of blood-letting seems an inevitable price Abhisit is prepared to have paid in order to preserve his government and the establishment, at least for the moment.





With 4 updates: State of emergency declared

7 04 2010

The Nation reports that “Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva conceded the enforcement of Internal Security Act (ISA) had failed to deter the protests by the red shirts.” He therefore “deemed it necessary to invoke the emergency decree over Bangkok” and surrounding provinces. Abhisit said: “”We want to facilitate other actions to restore peace and order. The actions will be in accordance with the law and international standard…”. He promised the enforcement of laws, “including the legal proceedings against red shirts leaders.”

This followed a day of actions from both the red shirts and the government. The government announced plans to close the red shirt television station and, led by firebrand Arisman Pongruangrong, more than 1,000 red shirts entered parliament’s compound after two fire bombs were allegedly aimed at protesters. Arisman reportedly entered the parliament building with 20 supporters. They stayed only a short time.

Abhisit, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, PM’s Office Minister Sathit Wongnongtoey, and acting spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn climbed over the ladder into Vimarn Mek palace, boarded a helicopter and went to “the government’s commanding center inside the 11 th Infantry Regiment.” Abhisit reportedly left “his cabinet and other MPs inside the Parliament.”

Meanwhile, “Deputy House Speaker Apiwan Ariyachai took the stage of the red shirts and told the cheering protesters that a senior army officer told him by telephone several times that the armed forces would withdraw supports for Abhisit and his government.” This raises a very interesting question as Army chief General Anupong Paojinda has refused to use troops against protesters while they remain peaceful. Recall that open rebellion by this same army leader brought down the government of Somchai Wongsawat when he refused to move against PAD protesters occupying the airport in late 2008.

Update 1: The “fire bombs” noted above may have been CS gas canisters. BusinessWeek has an update. The government states that it will take legal action against the red shirts who entered the parliament compound. Metropolitan Police chief Santhan Chayanont said “a pistol and an M16 rifle seized by the red shirts at the parliament were in the possession of Pvt Chalothorn Kimso, a military policeman, who was the driver of a car leading Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban’s motorcade. He said Pvt Chalothorn, was questioned about it and said he was shocked seeing the red-shirts storming into parliament. He took the weapons out of the car to find a place to store them. But, during the melee, the weapons were snatched from his hand. Pvt Chalothorn had filed a complaint with Dusit police, Pol Lt-Gen Santhan said.”

Pol Lt-Gen Santhan also “said he was informed by Pol Maj-Gen Phakapong Pongpetra, a crowd control commander, that the [gas] canisters were snatched from their bindings on the chests of police on guard duty by the red-shirts rushing into the parliament compound. The canisters were then thrown into the crowd of protesters.  This led to wrongful claims the government forces had tried to bomb the protesters.  Pol Lt-Gen Santhan said what happened would be further investigated. However, police had been told not to use tear gas against the protesters unless they were first given permission. This permission could be given only by the government’s Centre for Administration of Peace and Order (CAPO).” There’s confusion on this as the red shirts talk of “two tear gas shells found at the Ratchaprasong rally site.”

Meanwhile, Abhisit mentioned that the state of emergency was a direct result of the “red shirts of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) broke into the parliamentary compound, forcing cabinet members, including himself, and MPs attending a House meeting to flee for safety.”

Photos at the Bangkok Post show red shirts climbing the gate into what appears to be the parliament compound and opening it for their comrades. There seem no security forces involved until later photos. None of the photos have labels. They also show the grabbing of the M16. More photos here of Suthep and an armed guard – some suggest a Democrat Party MP – in parliament.

Update 2: For background on the decree on state of emergency, see Bangkok Pundit’s important post. The Irrawaddy notes that “[m]any Thai columnists and editorials on Wednesday questioned whether Abhisit was losing the weeks-old confrontation with the protesters and the crucial backing of the military and police. At least four former prime ministers planned to step into the fray in an attempt to negotiate an end to the crisis, state media reports said.” Well-known royalist and former head of the National Security Council Prasong Soonsiri offered advice to Abhisit: “If I were the prime minister, I would have got rid of those who would not carry out my orders…”. . He said “there was strong support for the Red Shirts within the civil service and law enforcement agencies.”

Update 3: The Nation reports a series of bombings, including on red shirts. The headliner is another claimed grenade attack on General Anupong’s office last Tuesday. Police have tried to link police “suspended Army specialist Maj-General Khattiya Sawas-diphol for questioning, because he was seen near the Democrat Party compound before the grenade attacks.”

Update 4: More bombings reported by The Nation. One was at the headquarters of the New Politics Party, apparently using an M203 grenade launcher attached to an M16 rifle – that’s suggesting considerably more sophistication than in other attacks and probably military links. The other at the TPI building. TPI is a company linked to – depending which bit of  it you look at – the Bangkok Bank and/or Prachai Leophairatana.