Thai army targets New Year protests

Dec. 21, 2011 at 6:30 AM
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BANGKOK, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- Thailand's army will help local police during the New Year period in case of threats to public order, especially protests over the restrictive lese-majeste laws.

The move is designed to dampen plans by protesters to gather in public and cut off Internet campaigns demanding changes to the laws that prohibit insults to the Thai royal family.

The laws have been heavily criticized as a tool for the government, police and military to clamp down on political dissidents and foreigners.

A U.S. citizen, Joe Gordon, was sentenced earlier this month to be jailed for 2 1/2 for translating parts of a banned biography of the king and posting them online.

Thai army commander Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha said people shouldn't be calling on authorities to amend Section 112 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the lese-majeste law, a report in the Bangkok Post said.

"Personally, I feel we should not talk about this and I don't want it to go overboard," he said. "If people think Thai law is unjust or too harsh, they can go live abroad. I would like Thai people to stop confronting each other and creating conflict."

Prayuth also warned against discussing the possibility of bombings during the New Year holiday.

"Don't start talking about possible bombings and stir up unrest during the New Year because it could hurt tourism," Prayuth said before visiting the restive southern border provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala this week.

Military police will be deployed to support local Bangkok police in areas suspected of becoming protest gathering points, Defense Minister Gen. Yutthasak Sasiprapa said.

Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung also warned against amending the lese-majeste law and asked whether protesters "have jobs to go to."

He said Thailand has prospered because of the royal family of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

"Because of His Majesty's compassion and graciousness in all areas, Thailand has gone from poverty to prosperity, from being an underdeveloped country to a developing country."

Chalerm also said he would lead a meeting for dealing with Web sites with lese-majeste content and block such sites.

He said he will talk with True Corp, an Internet service provider, while national police officials will meet the heads of other service telecoms companies, including TOT, CAT Telecom and 3BB.

The comments come after Gordon, a 55-year-old, Thai-born U.S. citizen, was sentenced in a Bangkok court under the lese-majeste law, even though he posted the offending content online while living in Colorado.

Gordon lived in the United States for about 30 years until May when he visited Thailand for arthritis treatment.

His five-year sentence was reduced because he pleaded guilty during his trial in October.

Last month a Thai court sentenced a 61-year-old man to 20 years in jail for sending several cellphone text messages allegedly offensive toward the queen.

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