Sun, Jun 03, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Thai prime minister contradicts general on political amnesty

AGENCIES , BANGKOK

Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said yesterday his government had no plan to propose early amnesties for ousted Premier Thaksin Shinawatra and his party leaders after they were banned from politics.

Surayud's remarks, made on a TV program scheduled to be aired late yesterday, were in contrast with coup leader General Sonthi Boonyaratglin who said he supported the idea of giving amnesties to the exiled leader and his supporters.

"The government will try to find the best solution, but I would like to say that we will not do it at this time," the army-appointed prime minister said.

Army Commander General Sonthi Boonyaratglin -- who led the coup against Thaksin last September -- had originally made the suggestion on Friday, just two days after the Constitutional Tribunal delivered its stunning ruling in which it also ordered the Thai Rak Thai party dissolved.

"I can approve of it because I think about national reconciliation," Sonthi told Channel 11, a government-owned television station.

"Most of these 111 people weren't involved with what happened," he said, referring to the Thai Rak Thai executives who were barred.

The Constitutional Tribunal ruled on Wednesday that Thai Rak Thai had violated election law in April last year. Fresh elections are tentatively planned for December, although Sonthi indicated they may come earlier.

The country's second biggest party, the Democrat Party, also faced electoral law charges but was exonerated.

Speaking on the same TV program, state Election Commission member Sodsri Satayatham said the verdict could not be reversed by the courts.

However, she said the ban could be lifted by a Cabinet decree that is also approved by the National Legislative Assembly -- the interim Parliament installed after last year's coup.

Sonthi heads the Council for National Security, which comprises the top military leadership who staged the coup. Although the coup-makers appointed an interim civilian government and legislature, they retain ultimate authority over the country's administration, with veto power over many matters.

Thai Rak Thai remains popular among Thailand's rural majority, who delivered the party huge electoral victories and concerns have been raised that Wednesday's ruling could prompt unrest.

Chaturon Chaisaeng, who took over as Thai Rak Thai party leader when Thaksin stepped down after the coup, said he was not surprised by Sonthi's proposition.

"What happened was heavily criticized by academics ... next Wednesday, when they show what the minority judges said and why they disagreed with the ruling, there will be even more dissent," he said.

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