Fri, Apr 09, 2010 - Page 1 News List

Thailand clamps down on media

AFP , BANGKOK

Thailand's government yesterday shut down dozens of Web sites and a television channel loyal to “Red Shirt” protesters who have occupied Bangkok's commercial hub, defying a state of emergency.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is under increasing pressure to end the mass anti-government rallies, which have disrupted traffic and caused major shopping centers to close.

Thai stocks slumped more than 3 percent yesterday on fears of a protracted bout of political turmoil.

Abhisit canceled his attendance at an ASEAN summit in Hanoi, where fellow officials expressed concern about Thailand’s deep political rift, which pits Bangkok's ruling elite against the mainly poor and rural Red Shirts.

Leaders of the tens of thousands of supporters of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a 2006 military coup, have refused to halt their protests, but the authorities have avoided using force to break up the rallies.

Instead, they targeted media loyal to the red-clad movement, shutting down its satellite TV channel showing rolling coverage of the demonstrations, along with 36 Web sites, and vowing to clamp down on pro-Red radio stations.

The government accused the Reds' TV of distorting information and inciting unrest, warning that the next step would be a ban on the use of loudspeakers at the protest site, where there was an angry response.

“The government wrongly thinks that cutting the signal will stop Reds from gathering,” protest leader Nattawut Saikuar said. “We give final word to the government to connect our signal within today, otherwise people will fight for their rights.”

Thaksin's fans hail his policies for the masses such as cheap healthcare, but Bangkok's powerful elite sees him as corrupt, authoritarian and a threat to the monarchy.

However, with their main tool for mobilizing the rank-and-file down, the Reds face a test today, when they have promised another major rally.

The army said the number of demonstrators in the commercial district had dwindled after the TV channel was yanked from the air.

“With a small number of protesters, it will be more acceptable for the public in the case of the government enforcing hasher measures,” military spokesman Sunsern Kaewkumnerd said.

The Reds say the government is illegitimate because it came to power with army backing through a parliamentary vote in December 2008 after a court decision ousted Thaksin’s allies from power.

Abhisit’s government has banned public gatherings of more than five people and given broad powers to police and military under emergency rule announced on Wednesday in the capital and surrounding areas.

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