Mon, Jul 09, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Thai activists arrested for anti-coup campaign

AFP , BANGKOK

Thai authorities have arrested two anti-coup activists who were campaigning against military rule and a new constitution that faces a public vote next month, police and activists said yesterday.

Sombat Boonngamanong, leader of an activist group formed after a putsch last September, said that he was detained on Friday by the military as he addressed a crowd in the northern city of Chiang Rai.

The Bangkok-based campaigner was rallying against the junta and the new draft constitution when soldiers took him into custody and held him for 24 hours for violating security laws, he said.

Chiang Rai is one of 35 Thai provinces still under martial law, which was imposed soon after the ouster of premier Thaksin Shinawatra. Restrictions have been lifted in 41 provinces.

"I want martial law to be revoked in the rest of the 35 provinces because the referendum is coming," Sombat said. "How can people vote if they don't have freedom of speech?"

His arrest came on the day that a military-appointed council passed a final draft of a new constitution, which replaces a 1997 version torn up by the coup makers. The charter faces a referendum on Aug. 19.

On Saturday, police arrested and charged another activist, Suchart Nakbangsai, for invading government offices.

Police Colonel Saranyoo Chamnanrach said Suchart was held after he drove a car into army headquarters in Bangkok to deliver a letter decrying the junta and demanding Sombat's release. Suchart was released on bail.

Anti-coup groups, many with links to Thaksin, have staged protests nearly every day since early June, demanding the junta resign and restore democracy.

The interim government has promised elections by the end of the year, but many groups have vowed to defeat the new draft constitution, complaining that it is undemocratic as it was drafted by a panel appointed by the junta.

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