Thai Prime Minister accused of human rights abuses during protest crackdown

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The Independent Online

Thailand's parliamentary opposition accused Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of human rights abuses yesterday, in a no-confidence motion centred on the use of violence during a crackdown on anti-government protests.

The two-day debate aims to focus attention on tough measures used to break up the "Red Shirt" protests which ended in Bangkok on 19 May, and could force Mr Abhisit to defend the firing of live ammunition by troops during a six-week period in which 88 people were killed and nearly 2,000 wounded.

The no-confidence motion is led by the Puea Thai Party, backed by ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Puea Thai, popular in the rural north and northeastern provinces, is expected to win the most seats in the next election. But Mr Abhisit is expected to survive the motion during a vote today, with strong support from his coalition.

"I'm here to ask for justice for the victims of the clashes. There has to be a proper investigation instead of the government blaming terrorists for everything," Jatuporn Prompan, a Red Shirt leader and Puea Thai lawmaker, told reporters before the debate.

Puea Thai speakers, broadcast live on television, said excessive and illegal measures, such as night-time operations and the use of live ammunition, were used by troops in attempts to surround the two protest sites and disperse demonstrators. Mr Abhisit defended the actions, saying yesterday that shadowy militants lurking among peaceful demonstrators triggered the bloodshed, which he said was aimed at trying to discredit and topple his government.

The mostly rural and urban poor protesters, broadly allied with Mr Thaksin, their spiritual leader and assumed financier, have demanded a snap election, claiming Mr Abhisit came to power illegitimately in December 2008 through parliamentary backroom dealing with the help of the military.

Puea Thai was formed after the pro-Thaksin ruling People's Power Party was dissolved for electoral fraud. Its previous incarnation, Thai Rak Thai, was disbanded after the 2006 coup that removed Mr Thaksin, who lives in self-imposed exile – mostly in London or Dubai – to avoid a jail term for graft and new charges of terrorism.

The debate will also focus public attention on the deaths of six civilians, including a volunteer nurse, at a Buddhist temple within the sprawling protest encampment in downtown Bangkok that was supposed to be a safe house and a no-weapons zone.

Opposition parliamentarian Anudith Nakornthap showed a photograph of marksmen in army uniform pointing rifles in the direction of the temple from an elevated train track, saying that troops shot at unarmed protesters within.

But Deputy Prime Minister, Suthep Thaugsuban, said the photo may have been taken the day after troops had secured the area.