Thai protest leaders granted bail

October 10, 2008 12:00 am

, BANGKOK, October 10 – Leaders of Thai anti-government protests were granted bail Friday after surrendering to police and immediately vowed new rallies, raising fears of mounting turmoil days after deadly street clashes.

Seven People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) leaders on Friday turned themselves in on arrest warrants for illegal assembly and inciting unrest and were released after about two hours of questioning.

"The police have granted bail to all protest leaders unconditionally," said Sondhi Limthongkul, one of the bailed leaders, before heading to a protest camp at the prime minister’s offices, which the PAD have occupied since late August.

Soon after emerging from a police station near the besieged Government House compound, Somkiat Pongpaibul, another of the seven leaders, vowed to launch fresh rallies on October 13 to protest the recent crackdown by authorities.

"On Monday morning, PAD will send our representatives to different locations all over the country. At 10:00 am we will gather in front of the national police headquarters," he told reporters.

Thousands of protesters on Tuesday marched on parliament to try and stop a speech by new Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, prompting clashes with police which left two dead and hundreds injured in the worst street violence in Bangkok in 16 years.

Efforts by Somchai, who has been premier for just over three weeks, to end the months-long campaign against his party have so far failed, and his government appears to have few allies left.

Even his former chief negotiator with the protesters said in an interview with the Bangkok Post on Friday that he saw no peaceful way out of the turmoil.

"A House dissolution cannot solve the problem," said Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, who became the first political casualty of the protests against the current cabinet when he resigned as deputy prime minister on Tuesday.

"So I see (the answer in) a putsch," he told the English-language daily.

Somchai, who has said he will set up a commission to investigate Tuesday’s violence, has so far remained largely silent on how he will deal with the challenge to his government.

"I am open to options from all sides but I have to use my own judgement on what is the most appropriate action," he told reporters Friday.

The PAD launched their street campaign in late May, saying the ruling People Power Party (PPP) is running the nation on behalf of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra and only came to power because of vote-buying in December elections.

Turmoil escalated on August 26 when PAD supporters stormed the prime minister’s Government House offices, prompting the Criminal Court to issue arrest warrants for nine PAD leaders on charges including insurrection.

But the Appeals Court on Thursday revoked arrest warrants on the serious charges of insurrection, paving the way for the seven men, including PAD co-founder Sondhi, to give themselves up.

Also Thursday, the Criminal Court freed two other PAD leaders, Chamlong Srimuang and Chaiwat Sinsuwong, on bail, in a ruling greeted by jubilant PAD supporters at Government House as a victory.

PAD leaders have been released on bail of 100,000 baht (2,900 dollars) each, although instead of paying they presented senators as their guarantors, and a police official told AFP they will have report again on October 24.

The PPP has since its election been beset by protests and court decisions against it, one of which removed Somchai’s predecessor Samak Sundaravej from office last month and brought in the new cabinet.

Thaksin, who is Somchai’s brother-in-law, now lives in England and is seeking political asylum, claiming he will not get a fair trial on corruption charges launched by the junta which toppled him in a coup in September 2006.

The army has so far said it will not step in and stage another coup to end the current turmoil.


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