Korn on the witch hunt

23 06 2010

Finance Minister and determined yellow-shirt supporter Korn Chatikavanij has decided that there is a witch hunt on. But it is not the government’s purposeful witch hunt against Thaksin Shinawatra supporters and, more recently, the red shirts, that has been going on since the Abhisit Vejjajiva government was shoe-horned in. For details, see here, here and here.

No, the witch hunt that Korn identifies is the parliament’s house subcommittee investigation into what is now being called “the Thaicom stock scandal.” See Bangkok Pundit for background.

Sadly, the patrician Korn, is reported in the Bangkok Post as being a bit miffed by being questioned by his lessers, “suggested the panel, under the House Finance, Fiscal and Financial Institutions Committee, chaired by Puea Thai Party MP for Chiang Mai Surapol Towichaikul, intended to politicise the issue rather than look for facts.”

Actually, the politicization of the issue began when Korn’s best friends in the People’s Alliance for Democracy raised the issue of private ownership. This was followed by the foolish leader of the 2006 coup, General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin said that Singaporean ownership of satellites was an issue of “national security.” It became increasingly politicized when Korn and his premier decided to illegally close People TV in May, setting off a round of violence.

Puea Thai list-MP Prakiat Nasimma has accused insiders of engaging in share manipulation over the government’s announcement that it was to nationalize Thaicom. Korn was asked to testify about the securities law. As a big share trader in the past and as minister responsible, he should know something on the topic.

The Puea Thai MP claimed the leak of the possible purchase of Thaicom prompted the share price to soar and Mr Korn could be accused of breaking share trading regulations. Korn said: “This meeting is useless because you have not invited the people who claim to have information about stock manipulation…”.

Meanwhile, the “assistant secretary-general of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), told the committee it was not possible at this stage to say if the finance minister had violated Section 240 of the SEC Act involving the spreading of false information to influence share prices.” She added: “If the information says the deal is sealed when in reality it is not concluded, this is a case of giving false information…. But if the information says the negotiation is in progress, it is hard to prove.”

Prakiat “questioned the government’s motive behind the move to buy Thaicom.” He sees the deal not as nationalization, but sees a scam to allow well-connected individuals to make profits in share-dealing. He adds: “I said the government has no intention to buy the satellite business…”.

Korn complained repeatedly, but provided no information. More digging to be done here.

Updated: How much more censorship?

13 06 2010

Quite a lot more it seems. The Bangkok Post (13 June 2010) says that the authoritarian tendency of the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime knows few boundaries.

The Post reports that  hardline “Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij and Sirichok Sopha, the prime minister’s secretary, flew to Singapore in mid-April as political protests were escalating to meet Temasek executives with two proposals…”. Like a Fascist politician, Korn reportedly asked the Thaicom satellite owner to prevent “the red shirt protesters’ People Channel (PTV) from broadcasting inappropriate programmes via Thaicom.” Apparently it was an offer Temasek could not refuse, and it sent the offer to the “Thaicom board, and subsequently the PTV broadcasts were blocked…”.

Like a Mafia godfather, Korn apparently made Temasek an offer. The “Thai government is proposing to buy Thaicom Plc from Singapore-based Temasek Holdings to avoid future conflicts stemming from the use of the company’s satellites to air anti-government broadcasts…”. The wording of the article is a little unclear: “Korn … ask[ed] Temasek if it would be possible for a Thai state enterprise, either MCOT or CAT Telecom, to take over Temasek’s indirect investment in the satellite operator.” Temasek’s response is not yet known.

Unsatisfied, it is reported that the “Thai government is still pursuing the idea under a government-to-government deal, which could result in changes in the terms for the remaining 12 years of Thaicom’s concession, or even a new satellite concession.” The idea is to make Thaicom effectively “a state enterprise and the government would find it easier to regulate satellite broadcasting.”

Temasek might like to offload Thaicom as the investment hasn’t been particularly easy to deal with and there have been numerous clashes with the military and post-coup governments. It is also an “industry is highly competitive with low margins.”

In other words, the implication of this story is that the Abhisit regime and its royalist backers are prepared to spend billions of taxpayers money to protect themselves and the monarchy. Censorship is tightening even further, and this authoritarian, military-backed regime wants to cut off all opposition media.

Update: Bloomberg BusinessWeek has a longish story on the proposed purchase of Thaicom and converting it into a state agency, meaning tighter censorship. It notes the Mafia-like offer that can’t be refused from a determined right-wing regime. The market price of Thaicom has increased but is still below its book value.

Updated: The struggle continues

11 04 2010

AP reports that red shirts have “dug into their encampments around Bangkok and rejected talk of negotiations Sunday after a month-long standoff escalated into clashes that killed 21 people in Thailand’s worst political violence in nearly two decades.” It adds that: “Bullet casings, pools of blood and shattered army vehicles littered the streets near a main tourist area where soldiers had tried to clear the protesters. At least 874 people were injured in what one newspaper called ‘The Battle for Bangkok.’ Protesters are demanding that the prime minister dissolve Parliament, call early elections and leave the country.”

AP reports that “protesters continued to occupy two main bases — one in the capital’s historic district and another along the main upscale shopping boulevard.”

The red shirts were able to show “a pile of weapons they had captured from the troops, including rifles and heavy caliber machine-gun rounds. More than half a dozen military vehicles, armored personnel carriers, Humvees and a truck, were crippled by the protesters, who ripped off the treads of the armored cars.”

Remarkably, the red shirts have again been able to restore People TV. They “broke into a satellite communications complex in a northern Bangkok suburb, forcing the operators to restore the Red Shirts’ vital People Channel television station, which the government has twice shut down.”

Red shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan “said Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s hands were ‘bloodied’ by the clashes.” He added: “Red Shirts will never negotiate with murderers…. Although the road is rough and full of obstacles, it’s our duty to honor the dead by bringing democracy to this country.” His colleague Veera Musigapong called on followers to refrain from further violence against government forces: “Please don’t tarnish the victory we are very close to winning now…”.

Update: The red shirt perspective – including on the soldiers held “hostage” – is presented in this video from Al Jazeera. Readers may recall that PPt also asked for evidence that showed armed red shirts. In this video there is some footage of people who may be red shirts, one carrying an AK47 (at about 2:27 minutes in). There are plenty of pictures of armed soldiers.

The crackdown I

10 04 2010

As was the case at Songkhran 2009, the military are undertaking actions against red shirt protesters this year. Television in Thailand was, for a time, reporting events, but there have now been blackouts, including of traffic cameras at strategic intersections that can usually be accessed via the internet. It is already clear that this crackdown on protesters has involved the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and some live rounds. PPT tries to summarize recent events by providing some links to news reports.

The clash at Thaicom, where red shirts had a temporary victory and troops seemed to go over to the red shirt side appears to have been critical in the Abhisit Vejjajiva-led government’s decision-making. Abhisit’s Friday evening television appearance stated “that the government will not be discouraged by the threats of an escalation in the Red Shirts call for the dissolution of parliament. It was also made clear that the government would not fail to enforce the ‘rule of law’.” The government’s action to re-take the station and to again block People TV can be seen as a first sign of a determination to crack down.

As police and troops massed at various protest sites, an early clash was at Lan Luang/Pan Fa where protesters pushed back against police. At about the same time, DeputyPrime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban chaired a meeting of his emergency committee which also included Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon and army chief Anupong Paojinda. Suthep issued the order for the crackdown. It seems Abhisit was there also (but is he sidelined?).

At about noon, protesters were asked to prepare for a crackdown and attempts were made to secure the protest sites. Suthep ordered “additional checkpoints near to Ratchadamnoen Avenue and Ratchaprasong Road.” The police stated that these checkpoints were “for preventing the smuggling of weapons to harm the red shirts rallying at Phan Fa Bridge and Ratchaprasong intersection or to incite violence…”. In fact, it is clear to all that this was the beginning of government moves to crush the red shirt challenge. Police apparently sought to serve arrest warrants. The government wanted to prevent red shirts returning to Thaicom.

A small group of red shirt protesters moved to the First Army Region headquarters on Rajadamnoen Nok Road, led by Kwanchai Praipana “to pressure troops not leave the base. At around 1pm, troops used water cannon to prevent the protesters from entering the base.”

The Nation then reported that “Hundreds of full gear police have been deployed at Ploenchit Intersection while red shirts leaders call for the protesters to form barricades to counter police…. TV footage showed the full gear police marched to Ploenchit which is near Rajprasong Intersection which has been under siege of red shirst protesters for days. The deployment spread reports that the government plan to disperse the pro-Thaksin protesters. Meanwhile red shirts leaders told the protesters to wake up and came out of their tents. They distributed handkerchiefs, telling the protesters to prepare for tear gas.”

Amid rumors of a coup, the military confirmed that tanks and/or armored personnel carriers were deployed in the city: “The deployment of army tanks at the Royal Plaza was not an attempt to stage a military coup, said Centre for Public Administration in Emergency Situations spokesman Col Sandern Kaewkamnerd. The tanks were stationed in the area to prevent any attempt by the red shirts to storm Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda’s Si Sao Theves residence. Reports said 10 tanks parked at the Royal Plaza at about 12.30pm.” They were also deployed at other strategic locations.

The Bangkok Post reported that “Soldiers are moving in on red shirts at Phan Fa Bridge and Ratchaprasong intersection in what appears to be the start of a crackdown on the anti-government rallies. As of 2pm, troops have retaken a large area along Ratchadamnoen Avenue from the protesters. Troops from the First Army regional headquarters left their base to confront red shirts who had mobilised from Phan Fa Bridge, after the protesters unsuccessfully tried to break into the compound on Si Ayutthaya Road earlier this afternoon. Several gunshots have been heard, but it is not clear who fired the shots.” Border Patrol Police were reported to be at Rajaprasong and the government confirmed that it was seeking to clear out the red shirt protesters.

By about 4 p.m., reports were of troops using tear gas at the Makkhwan Bridge. There were also clashes as the military attempted to prevent red shirt supporters joining their comrades. Much red shirt communication is by mobile phone, calling others to come via SMS. Remarkably, a few minutes later, The Nation reported that: “Protesters were seen on Thai PBS cheering as troops stepped back from the confrontation line at the Makkhawan Bridge 4:12 pm. It seemed the protesters there reclaimed their rally area from the troops and pushed the trooped back across the bridge.” The retreat of troops was shown on television.

Skytrain security cameras were blacked out by red shirts at Rajaprasong as these were claimed to be being used by the security forces to follow events. Skytrain services were suspended.

Acting government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said: “Security forces will continue pressuring anti-government protesters to abandon their rally sites throughout the capital … to reopen the road to traffic…”. It was claimed that “Police and troops have retaken Phitsanulok Road and are advancing on three to four more roads around Phan Fa bridge, where one of the two United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship rallies is located…. Toops were advancing on Ratchadamnoen Avenue. The operation would conducted in a step-by-step manner in strict accordance with the emergency decree, he said.” He added: “We will adhere to the principles of human rights and humanity as well relevant laws and court orders…”.

By late afternoon it was reported that at least 33 people had been injured in clashes to date. Several clashes were reported in different places, with large numbers of BPP massing. Later, Reuters reported government confirmation of the use of live rounds and reported “at least 93 people, including 22 soldiers and police, were wounded in a series of clashes near the Phan Fah bridge and Rajdumnoen Road, near several government and army buildings and the regional U.N. headquarters.” A foreign reporter was said to have been shot and injured. Also, “Reporters said live rounds were also fired, and a reporter for Thai TV station TPBS showed a spent bullet and bullet holes in the side of a car.” The Bangkok Post took an odd line, saying blanks were fired and ignoring evidence, even when the government had confirmed the use of live rounds. Reuters reported 5 gunshot wounds. Acting government spokesman Panitan said something about “troops would use only necessary force…”. He was supported by the military spokesman.

Meanwhile, the red shirt leadership seemed to be settling in for a longer struggle and the struggle soon moved beyond Bangkok, with reports of red shirts rallying at the provincial hall in Khon Kaen, Udorn and Chiang Mai. There are several reports of troops and police withdrawing (here and here) but the clashes continued, with the government using a helicopter to drop tear gas and the red shirts releasing balloons at the helicopter.

By 7 p.m., the Bangkok Post was reporting 135 casualties. Clashes were continuing. The government and military continued to claim that the security forces used live rounds fired in the air. These claims match those following the Songkhran Uprising last year.

Updated: Government to arrest red shirt leaders, closes People TV again

9 04 2010

Police claim that they “are poised to arrest, whenever they can, 24 United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship figures wanted under arrest warrants…”. PPT would assume, given the events over People TV, that any arrests would be met with red shirt anger and responses.

The report states that the “Criminal Court has approved arrest warrants for two groups of UDD leaders. The first group of seven are wanted for breaking into the parliament compound on Sunday. The second group of 17 are wanted for leading the red-shirts to block the Ratchaprasong intersection in violation of the emergency decree.” Those named in the new warrants are Weng Tojirakan, Darunee Kritboonyalai, Jaran Dithapichai, Natthawut Saikua, Nisit Sinthuprai, Veera Musigapong, Korkaew Pikulthong, Kwanchai Sarakham, Chinawat Haboonpat, Wiputhalaeng Pattanaphumthai, Adisorn Piengket, Worapol Prommikbut, Waipot Arpornrat, Samroeng Prachamrua, Visa Khanthap, Paijit Aksornnarong, and Khattiya Sawasdipol (Seh Daeng).

The police “had closed in on the 24 and would arrest them whenever they could. After they were arrested, they would be detained at six locations to prevent them from further illegal activities.” The emergency decree means they can be held for 30 days.

The police have also warned “motorcycle taxi and cab drivers had been warned against joining the UDD rally, under threat of legal action under the emergency law.”

Abhisit Vejjajiva’s acting police chief Police General Pratheep Tanprasert told a meeting of police commanders “to arrest the 24 UDD leaders as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile, the Bangkok Post reports that the army has “reoccupied the Thaicom station at Phatum Thani province’s Lat Lum Kaeo district and have managed to black out the red shirts’ People’s Channel TV broadcast again on Friday night.”  Acting government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said that “the government has again blocked signal of PTV, and vowed that authorities would not let the red-shirts … break into the station’s compound one more time.”

With the police threatening to arrest red shirt leaders and the government taking down People TV again, conflict seems assured.

Update: Not really for this post alone, but on the red protests generally, New Mandala has pointed PPT to this important set of photos at the Boston Globe website. PPT didn’t understand why Abhisit had earlier stated that soldiers should not feel “discouraged.” See the last few photos for an explanation.

Further updated: Red shirts at Thaicom

9 04 2010

The Bangkok Post (9 April 2010) reports that People TV satellite uploader Thaicom, “the country’s sole satellite service provider, said the government’s blocking of the red shirts’ People Channel television station (PTV) had severely damaged its international reputation.The company said foreign customers using the same transponder as PTV were threatening to sue Thaicom for their losses. An executive expressed concern that interference with the station’s signals could damage the satellite’s transponder.” He added “Despite the fact that signal jamming violates our contract and causes severe damage to our reputation, we must follow the order…”.

In response to the closing of People TV, The Nation (9 April 2010) reports that red shirts have broken through army “barricades and entered ThaiCom uplink station’s compound and were trying to enter the station’s buildings in Lat Lum Kaew, Pathum Thani province at about 2.40pm.”

The army used “smoke bombs” but were unable to stop the “thousands” of demonstrators who reportedly “seized police trucks park[ed] inside the compound and forced open and seized weapons from the trucks.” No evidence of this weapons claim presented anywhere else, including on a BBC report from the compound [but see update below].

There were said to be 7,000 anti-riot forces at the Thaicom site.

It is reported that red-shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan had “urged the red shirts to stay calm and not to raid the satellite uplink station.” However, when it became clear that the anti-riot forces were making “preparations for crowd control” the red shirts responded. These troops “were seen deploy[ing] the water cannon to deter the crowds after devices emitting heav[y] smoke were thrown from the crowds.”

By 5.20 p.m., the government had apparently agreed to restore the People TV broadcast. The Nation reports that “red-shirt leader Natthawut Saikua said the red shirts had succeeded to force Thaicom uplink station to resume its satellite service to PTV.  The negotiations was brokered by Provincial Police Region 1 chief Lt General Krisada Pankongchuen. In exchange for the resumption of PTV broadcast, the red shirts agreed to disperse from the uplink station and allow police to gain control of the area.” People TV was back up by about 5.45 p.m.

It was reported that about 20 persons, mainly red shirts were injured in this action.

A brief but important victory for the red shirts but another action to “contain” anti-riot forces is already said to be underway at the Police hospital at the Rajaprasong intersection at around 6 p.m.

Update 1: This latter action seemed to coincide with action at the Rajaprasong area as “customers and workers were asked to leave shopping malls around Rajprasong. Police are reportedly preparing six locations to detain suspects.” This report is associated with a picture gallery at The Nation’s website. Note that the malls had already re-opened.

Update 2: Some international coverage of the Thaicom events: The Times, Christian Science Monitor and The Globe and Mail. Note that this latter report seems oddly different from all others that PPT has seen to date, referring to protesters “Hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails.” It also states that: “After the clash, some security forces were seen throwing down their shields and riot gear and shaking hands with the protesters.” The same report states that, “The Red Shirts offered water to soldiers and police, and showed reporters a small cache of weapons, including M-16 assault rifles and shotguns, they had seized from soldiers.” The government estimated that 15,000 demonstrators were at Thaicom.

Updated: Red shirts, censorship and a predicted crackdown

9 04 2010

The Bangkok Post (9 April 2010) reports that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, now with almost total control over the televised media, has defended the decision to shut down the red shirts’ People Channel, claiming it “aired disinformation so people would turn on the government. This endangered national security.” More specifically, Abhisit appears to be personally affronted because the red shirts played a tape on stage that Abhisit says “falsely claimed the government was using weapons to suppress protesters.” Propaganda and censorship chief Sathit Wongnongtoey “said the red shirts had provoked hatred of the government.” He claimed that the red shirts had “doctored video and audio material to discredit the government.”

Preventing oppositional voices is now defined as a means of defending national security.

Thailand’s Cable TV Association president Kasem Inkaew “warned that the closure of PTV would draw more UDD supporters to the red shirt rallies,” and said that members “had received many calls from subscribers who were angry after the rally broadcasts were suspended…”.

As usual, a couple of yellow-shirted academics have defended the government, with Thammasat University law lecturer Surachai Sirikrai saying the shutdown was warranted because People TV presented “one-sided information that threatened public peace.” That logic would mean shutting down all television stations in the country.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology is reported as “warning that all websites linked with the red shirt demonstrations and those encouraging people to join tomorrow’s mass rally will be blocked immediately. ICT permanent secretary Sue Lor-uthai yesterday said the warning came after the Centre for Public Administration in Emergency Situations authorised his ministry to tackle websites and Twitter users considered provocative and inciting disunity.  Mr Sue said the authority given to the ministry would help efforts to ban websites quickly rather than wait for a court order.  Mr Sue said almost 10,000 website links had been blocked since March when the red shirt demonstration began.  Bans on another 700 links were awaiting court approval, he said.”

At about the same time, acting government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn has claimed that the government is only using peaceful means.Ominously, however, he adds that the “government was using the approach employed during the bloody Songkran protests last year.” That response to the Songkhran Uprising was claimed by the government to have been “measured,” but resulted in dozens of injuries and at least 4 related deaths.

It now seems just a matter of time – at least for the government – before the crackdown begins.

The government claims to have the military brass on side for its proposed actions against the red shirt protesters, but this is not absolutely clear. Wassana Nanuam says that it may be deputy army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha who will have “to head the operation to disperse the red shirt demonstrators…” as his boss, General Anupong Paojinda is “reportedly uncomfortable with a plan to break up the protests.” There is speculation he may refuse to act and that the government may have to get General Prayuth to do the job.

Wassana reports that Abhisit and Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban “are reported to have locked horns with Gen Anupong on Tuesday over a plan to disperse the red shirts. The army chief was quoted as saying the security authorities had no authority to move in and break up the rally at Ratchaprasong intersection.”

General Prayuth is said to have “mobilised 50 companies of troops from the 2nd and 3rd Army Regions and from the Lop Buri-based Special Operations Command to help beef up security in Bangkok.” Anupong is not inactive however, and has “asked suppliers of tear gas and rubber bullets to speed up deliveries.” He has also  “given clear instructions to troops not to use firearms if they embark on an operation to disperse the demonstrators. Soldiers have been told to use only crowd control equipment – mainly water cannons, batons, shields, tear gas and rubber bullets.”

It is a situation balanced on a knife-edge.

Update: Worth reading the report at Inter Press Service for an assessment of the politics of this current censorship. Also worth reading is this TIME report on the military.

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