Thaksin's speech played for demonstrators, ex-Thai PM calls for elections

Friday, June 15, 2007

Ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

A videotaped address by Thaksin Shinawatra was played for a crowd of around 15,000 supporters today in Bangkok, with the ousted former prime minister calling for the military-installed government of Thailand to hold elections later this year as promised.

"Please speed up the new elections and turn the country back to democracy," Thaksin said in his message, taped in London, where he has been living in exile since being ousted in a coup last year. "It is time for reconciliation and to move forward with elections. That is the best solution for the country."

"Let the people decide for themselves who should be voted into office and run the country," he said.

Interim Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont has said the elections would likely be held in December, after a constitutional referendum, which might occur in August or September.

Thaksin's address began at around 9 p.m. local time (1400 GMT), and was shown on six screens at the Sanam Luang protest-staging ground. Organizers of the demonstration, the pro-Thaksin satellite television station PTV, also known as the Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship, said they had hoped for a live broadcast via Internet, but switched to a pre-recorded message because they feared the transmission would be blocked by the military-run government. The government had earlier said they would allow Thaksin to make a live address, but only if he would say nothing provocative, and that they would monitor the transmission.

The live-broadcast service of the PTV website could not be accessed before or during the speech, The Nation newspaper reported. Access to several pro-Thaksin websites was blocked by the ministry.

Thaksin railed against the government for its seizure of his bank accounts in Thailand, calling the move "unfair."

"I wouldn't mind if it was just me they were persecuting, but my wife and children have also become victims, which I didn't expect to happen," Thaksin said.

"The government seized my assets because they want to discredit me and to prevent Thai Rak Thai from winning in new elections. That's not democracy," he said, referring to the political party he once led, which was ordered dissolved by a Constitutional Tribunal over elections violations. "I haven't done anything wrong," he said. "I repeat that I have already given up politics," he added.

He in struggle for power boasted he would return to Thailand "to protect my reputation," though he did not specify exactly when he would return. "I will fight to get my dignity back, and to restore the credibility of Thailand's legal system," he said. "I will fight within the rule of law."

In spite of the fact that Mr Abhisit, the Democrat party leader in Thailand, said the content of the pre-recorded message played to demonstrators at Sanam Luang was nothing short of expectations. He said Mr Thaksin should not blame anyone but himself that his wife and children were facing graft investigations.

"His wife and children find themselves in this situation all because of Mr Thaksin's decisions," he said. "He threw the problems at them by transferring shares to them and it is not clear that he gave up management of those assets."

Deputy Democrat leader Wittaya Kaewparadai said the video address reflected Mr Thaksin's obsession with his own personal interests. He did not show strong reactions when he was toppled by the coup makers but rose to "defend his dignity" when his assets were frozen, he said.

Mr Wittaya said he believed Mr Thaksin's address was meant to rouse his supporters and instigate violence

However Mr Thaksin still asked that all Thais unite to mark the 80th birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thailand's monarch who has reigned for 60 years.

Thaksin claimed that the coup and the military government have hurt Thailand's economy. The coup "rendered a lack of confidence on the part of the world community in this country's political and economic developments." He said the poor and the business sector would continue to suffer until democracy was restored.

Police estimated that 8,000 people were present at the Sanam Luang rally venue, while organisers of the rally put the numbers closer to 50,000. There was a heavy presence of police as well as military personnel and their vehicles, and some roads were blocked to traffic. There was no report of any untoward incident or violence at the rally venue.

Demonstrations organized by the Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship have grown in the past two weeks, and a large demonstration and march from Sanam Luang to Royal Thai Army headquarters is expected tomorrow.

The government has said it will deploy 13,000 soldiers for the event, though Premier Surayud said the protests would be allowed, but warned that emergency law would be enforced if things turn violent.