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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

EU voices 'extreme concern' over Thai coup crackdowns

Posted: 29 May 2014 05:19 PM PDT

BANGKOK: The European Union has voiced "extreme concern" about political detentions and censorship in Thailand, as the military junta chief met officials and began to set out plans for the country's future.

The EU - a key trade partner of the Southeast Asian nation - said only a clear plan for the country's return to democracy could allow its "continuous support" after the Thai military seized power last week and set about rounding up political figures, academics and activists.

"We are following current developments with extreme concern," the EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton said in a statement.

"We urge the military leadership to free all those who have been detained for political reasons in recent days and to remove censorship," she added.

The junta on Thursday added nearly 50 more names to the upwards of 250 people it has summoned, having held scores of people without charge at secret locations for up to a week.

Authorities have curtailed civil liberties under martial law and imposed a nightly curfew.

A week after seizing power, Thailand's coup leader General Prayut Chan-O-Cha met central and regional officials and laid out three stages that he envisioned for the country before it could be returned to democratic rule, without giving a timeframe.

The country would stay under "special law" during the first phase and then later set up a national assembly and "reform council", according to army spokeswoman Sirichan Ngathong.

Only then would the country start the process of preparing for elections, she said.

On Thursday, the United States reiterated a call for elections. "We don't believe there is a legitimate reason to delay elections, and we will continue to work with our international partners to use every political lever, economic lever where applicable to put the necessary pressure on," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Thailand has seen 19 actual or attempted coups since 1932.

The regime freed some 30 people, including Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, who was caretaker premier at the time of the coup, on Thursday - a day after releasing leaders of the "Red Shirt" movement allied to the ousted government.

It has instructed all those set free to refrain from discussing politics under threat of prosecution in a military court.

Senior members of their rival protest movement as well as former premiers Yingluck Shinawatra and Abhisit Vejjajiva have also been held and since released.

A fugitive former cabinet minister arrested by soldiers who swooped on a press briefing a day earlier was brought before a military court Wednesday to acknowledge charges of denying an order to report to the junta, and of "provocation", police said.

If convicted, ex-education minister Chaturon Chaisang could be imprisoned. He had used a press conference to criticise the coup minutes before being detained. 

Army denies Facebook block

Following a threat of a crackdown on social media, Facebook users on Wednesday reacted with alarm to rumours of a "block" of the popular site.

After an outcry on the Internet, the army interrupted national television to deny it had blocked Facebook after the site briefly went down.

But the military has warned against small but persistent daily anti-coup protests, mainly in the capital Bangkok.

Army spokesman Winthai Suvaree said authorities should prosecute demonstrators and could use teargas against the rallies, although he added they would "avoid violence".

The current political turmoil centres on the divisive figure of Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's older brother, who was deposed as prime minister by royalist generals in a 2006 coup and now lives in self-imposed exile to avoid prison for a corruption conviction.

His opponents in the establishment, military and among the Bangkok middle classes view the entire Shinawatra family as corrupt.

Anti-Shinawatra protesters staged nearly seven months of protests before the May 22 coup in an attempt to rid the country of the family's influence.

At least 28 people have died in related violence.

Thaksin, a billionaire tycoon-turned-politician, has broad support among the urban working class and rural communities in the north and northeast, particularly for popular policies including providing nearly free healthcare.

He or his allies have won every election in the country since 2001.

Thailand has been rocked by increasingly severe political division and street protest since he was deposed in 2006.

More than 90 people were killed and hundreds injured during Red Shirt protests in 2010 that ended with a crackdown by soldiers firing live rounds. - AFP

Elderly man suspected of vandalism

Posted: 29 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

A 71-YEAR-old man has been arrested for his suspected involvement in acts of vandalism discovered around the Clarke Quay area last week that appeared to be in support of blogger Roy Ngerng.

The police, in a media statement yesterday, said they were alerted to the graffiti when a report was lodged last Friday morning about a bus stop advertisement board along Hill Street that had been defaced.

Officers then carried out checks and found similar graffiti at 11 other bus stops along Clemenceau Avenue, River Valley Road, Hill Street and Victoria Street.

Phrases such as "We support CPF blogger" and "Return our CPF money" were scrawled in black block letters across at least six areas.

These appeared to be messages backing Ngerng, who received a letter of demand from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on May 18 for defamatory remarks made about Lee in a blog post recently.

The arrest of the suspect on Tuesday stemmed from police operations and inspections of closed-circuit television footage.

Anyone found guilty of vandalism could face imprisonment of up to three years, or a fine up to S$2,000 (RM5,100), and could also receive between three and eight strokes of the cane.

However, as the suspect is above 50, he will not be caned if convicted. — The Straits Times/ Asia News Network

Lee commences suit against blogger

Posted: 29 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has commenced proceedings on a defamation suit against blogger Roy Ngerng, who in a May 15 blog post alleged that Lee had misappropriated CPF savings.

In the latest letter sent yesterday, the Prime Minister's lawyer, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, also responded to a lawyer's letter sent by Ngerng on Wednesday.

Ngerng's lawyer M. Ravi wrote that although Ngerng promised not to "aggravate the injury and distress" to Lee through "similar other posts", this should not be understood as a curtailment of Ngerng's "right to his freedom of expression to write or engage the public on the CPF issue and raise any matters relating to CPF that requires transparency and accessibility to the public".

Davinder's response in yesterday's letter was that Lee "has never once said" that Ngerng is to remove his posts, including those on the CPF, other than those specifically identified in Lee's letters, and Ngerng knew that.

Lee has, since the saga started on May 18, asked Ngerng to remove a May 15 blog post that drew comparisons between the alleged misuse of church funds by City Harvest Church leaders and CPF funds, as well as four blog posts that republish this comparison.

Despite that, wrote Davinder, Ngerng has in Wednesday's letter "sought to give the false impression that our client is seeking to prevent him from expressing his views on the CPF or from exercising his constitutional rights".

"This disingenuous suggestion was made in a letter which your client intended to make public, to bolster his standing and in aid of his continuing public campaign against our client," said Davinder.

Lee will invite the court to "have regard to this malicious conduct when assessing aggravated damages", he added. — The Straits Times/ Asia News Network

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