Military leaders rebuff Suthep

Top military leaders decided on Wednesday night not to meet a group of anti-government protest leaders, saying it would be highly dangerous for the country if the military were seen as taking sides.

  • Published: 12/12/2013 at 12:00 AM
  • Newspaper section: topstories

Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha says top military leaders decided not to meet anti-government protester Suthep Thuagsuban. (Bangkok Post file photo)

The decision was made after protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban announced his group was seeking a meeting with senior military and police leaders on Thursday in an apparent attempt to gain their support for his "political reform" push.

But the move stirred misgivings among the military top brass, who are concerned a meeting could lead to perceptions that the armed forces are siding with the protesters.

"This time we [the military] are between a lot of people on two sides, if you cannot clear up [such a stalemate] first, it's very dangerous," army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha told the Bangkok Post. "So we must be patient and keep calm and do everything carefully.

"All commanders made the decision together," he said.

Earlier in the day, Mr Suthep, the self-appointed People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) secretary-general, said the proposed meeting with the supreme commander and leaders of the army, navy, air force and police was necessary if protesters were to achieve their plans for political reform.

He said the meeting would help the military and police top brass understand what direction the PDRC's proposed political reforms will take.

He called for the meeting to take place before 8pm today.

"Some state officials may not understand the goal is to reform the country.

"These people have not had the chance to meet us, so we find it necessary to meet those in charge of security affairs and let them inquire about our approach ... so they can make a decision." he told about 1,000 protesters at the Nang Loeng rally stage.

His speech was broadcast to the Democracy Monument rally site on Ratchadamnoen Avenue where there were around 10,000 demonstrators.

Mr Suthep also said he will today meet with the leaders of seven private organisations and hear what they have to say about political reforms.

In addition, he plans to meet a number of respected figures including former prime minister Anand Panyarachun and scholar Prawase Wasi.

"We are not arrogant and we will listen. And we intend to meet other respected figures for advice. This will be done before the next election happens," he said.

The next election should be organised under the new, reformed rules otherwise the country would not be able to free itself from the grip of the Thaksin regime, he said.

By Thaksin regime, Mr Suthep was referring to the influence of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra on Thai politics.

Mr Suthep also urged red shirts to join the PDRC's efforts to reform the country.

"If you say you love and fight to defend democracy, we are ready to end the division between us. Take off your red shirts and join us to reform the country together," he said.

Mr Suthep, however, insisted key red-shirt leaders such as Jatuporn Prompan, Nattawut Saikuar and Tida Tawornseth were not welcome to join.

A source at the PDRC said Uthai Yodmanee, leader of the Network of Students and People for Thailand's Reform (NSPTR), a PDRC faction, said in the PDRC meeting yesterday that he would lead NSPTR protesters to lay siege to parliament if they did not receive a positive response from military leaders about the reform push.

Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said on Wednesday that she believed military leaders and other state officials would carry on with their jobs.

Meanwhile, the Constitution Court has decided not to hear a complaint lodged by former senator Ruangkrai Leekitwattana accusing Mr Suthep of violating Section 68 of the charter. The section prohibits attempts to overthrow the monarchy and unconstitutional efforts to seize power.

The court's chief spokesman, Pimol Thampitakpong, said Mr Suthep was involved in peaceful and unarmed rallies which were permitted under the constitution.

As for the protesters' seizure of government offices, which Mr Ruangkrai said was part of Mr Suthep's unconstitutional attempt to topple the Yingluck administration, Mr Pimol said the seizures had already ended and the House was now dissolved, so there were no grounds to claims the move violated the charter.

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