PM firm over protest group's treatment

PM firm over protest group's treatment

A young woman speaks out against police arresting 37 fellow protesters during a rally on Monday outside Government House against a plan to build an industrial estate in Chana district of Songkhla. The protesters were released on Tuesday afternoon. Nutthawat Wicheanbut
A young woman speaks out against police arresting 37 fellow protesters during a rally on Monday outside Government House against a plan to build an industrial estate in Chana district of Songkhla. The protesters were released on Tuesday afternoon. Nutthawat Wicheanbut

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha insists that the police had no choice but to disperse a group of protesters outside Government House on Monday night who were demanding an end to plans to establish an industrial development in their hometown.

All 37 protesters, six men and 31 women, from Songkhla's Chana district, were rounded up around 9.40pm on Monday and taken to the Narcotics Suppression Bureau on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road. They were later released at 2pm on Tuesday.

The Prime Minister justified the dispersal as a precaution due to reports more protesters were expected to turn up at the gathering.

Speaking after Tuesday's cabinet meeting, Gen Prayut told reporters that he had instructed the police to arrange bail for the detained protesters. He said he had also ordered the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC) and the PM's Office Ministers to look again at the plans for the Chana industrial estate in order to find a solution to suit all parties.

The police's handling of the protesters elicited broad criticism of the government and in a statement released on Tuesday, the National Human Rights Commission stated that the gathering had been both peaceful and lawful under the constitution.

No bail was asked in exchange for Tuesday's release of the protesters, although all were barred from further participation in the protest.

Chief opposition whip Sutin Klungsang on Tuesday laid the blame for the furore squarely at the feet of the government, pointing out that the police officers involved had simply been acting on orders when they moved in to break up the protest.

"The government must do a better job of listening to peaceful and lawfully made complaints which are neither violent nor incite violence in a wider context," he said.

The opposition is considering filing a motion to force the government to justify the actions of the police to the House, he said.

The protesters, meanwhile, vowed on Tuesday to continue rallying outside Government House in protest against what they described as the government's refusal to fulfil a promise made to locals about a year ago that it would scrap the current development scheme and begin afresh with a new environmental impact assessment of the project.

Kaireeyah Ramanya, a protest leader, said she and the other members of the Chana Rak Thin Network had come Bangkok to ask Gen Prayut when that promise, which had been made in the form of a memorandum of understanding, would be kept after a year of government silence as work had continued on the estate.

Proposed by SBPAC and approved by the cabinet in 2019, the Chana industrial estate project was labelled a key part of the Southern Economic Corridor and, when finished, was set to cover more than 16,700 rai of land.

The project, however, had faced strong resistance from local communities and civic rights groups after the government re-zoned sizeable areas of land in the area from agricultural to industrial use.

Many locals, most of whom are small-scale fishermen, feel the mega-project will negatively affect their health and the area's abundant marine resources.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, meanwhile, insisted on Tuesday that a public hearing is being planned to come up with a mutually beneficial solution to those concerned, and he called on the protesters to be patient as more time is needed to complete the process.

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