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Updated: May 27, 2010 15:39 IST

Thai political battle moves from streets to courts

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The battle between the Thai government and supporters of coup—ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has moved off the streets and into the courts, officials said on Thursday.

A week after troops and armoured vehicles broke up a two—month demonstration by Thaksin supporters in the heart of Bangkok, the government has initiated a multipronged legal offensive against the former premier and his backers.

“In fact, it’s a good sign to have legal battles instead of street battles,” government spokesman Panithan Wattanayankorn said on Thursday.

“It shows the system is functioning again.” Police were expected to formally seek the help of Interpol next week to arrest and extradite Mr. Thaksin to face a charge of terrorism for his alleged role in financing and organizing the protests. Unrest surrounding the demonstrations resulted in 88 deaths and 1,885 injuries, according to government figures.

Mr. Thaksin’s lawyers filed an appeal on Wednesday, seeking to revoke an arrest warrant issued against him on terrorism charges the day before.

In his first published reaction, Mr. Thaksin said in an interview with the Australian public broadcaster ABC on Thursday that he did not bankroll the so—called red—shirt rebellion and Interpol should ignore the warrant.

“We never, we never, engage in violence,” Mr. Thaksin said. “This [charge] is clearly politically motivated, and there is no ground.

... Interpol always found out that the information that the Thai government gives is unreliable and is politically motivated.” Mr. Thaksin denied that protestors had set the fires that gutted several major buildings in Bangkok on May 19, saying they did not have the technical capabilities to do so.

Mr. Thaksin was removed from office in 2006 by a bloodless army coup and jumped bail after he was charged and later convicted of abuse of power. He is currently living in self—imposed exile in Montenegro.

Mr. Panithan admitted the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva faces an uphill battle in restoring public confidence after the violence in Bangkok.

He said an independent panel would be convened to investigate the upheaval, which spread to several northern and north—eastern provinces.

On Thursday the police chiefs of four north—eastern provinces were removed from their posts and placed on inactive duty for failing to crack down on violence instigated by supporters of the Bangkok protests.

On Tuesday, the Interior Ministry removed the governors of the four provinces — Khon Kaen, Udon Thani, Mukdaharn and Ubon Ratchathani — for failing to protect public buildings burned in the protests.

Mr. Panithan said legal cases were due to be submitted next month against anti—Thaksin “yellow shirt” protestors who closed down Bangkok’s two international airports in late 2008.

Failure to prosecute those protestors was one of the main criticisms made by the pro—Thaksin red shirts, who argued that a double standard was being applied.

Mr. Panithan said the government was working hard to counter rumours that have proliferated in the bitterness that has followed the Bangkok street battles.

He said reports that nine bodies had been found last week in the basement of the gutted Central World shopping centre were false. The spokesman also denied rumours that Arisman Phongruangrong, a key red—shirt leader who disappeared last week, had been killed by security forces.

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