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Thai court to issue arrest warrant after ex-PM doesn’t show

August 25, 2017

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s Supreme Court said it will issue an arrest warrant for former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra after she failed to show Friday for a contentious trial verdict in which she could face a 10-year prison term for alleged negligence in overseeing a money-losing rice subsidy program.

A judge read out a statement saying that Yingluck’s lawyers had informed the court she could not attend because of an earache. But the judge said the court did not believe the excuse because no official medical verification was provided, and the court would issue a warrant for her arrest as a result.

Yingluck’s whereabouts were not immediately known, fueling speculation that she might have fled the country. There was no evidence, however, that she had left Thailand. A verdict had been expected to be delivered within hours in the case, which the court postponed until Sept. 27. Yingluck has pleaded innocent, and decries the charges against her as politically motivated. If convicted, she has the right to appeal.

The trial is the latest chapter in a decade-long struggle by the nation’s elite minority to crush the powerful political machine founded by Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled in a 2006 coup. Thaksin, who has lived in Dubai since fleeing a corruption conviction he says was politically motivated, has studiously avoided commenting on his sister’s case, apparently to avoid imperiling it.

Thaksin is a highly polarizing figure here, and his overthrow triggered years of upheaval and division that has pitted a poor, rural majority in the north that supports the Shinawatras against royalists, the military and their urban backers.

When Yingluck’s government proposed an amnesty in 2013 that could have absolved her brother and allowed him to return without being arrested, street protests erupted that eventually led to her government’s demise in a 2014 military coup.

The junta that seized control of Thailand has clamped down harshly since then, suppressing all dissent and banning political gatherings of more than five people. The long-awaited decision on Yingluck’s fate has rekindled tensions in the divided nation, but the military remains firmly in charge.

Fearing potential unrest, authorities tried to deter people from turning out Friday by threatening legal action against anyone planning to help transport Yingluck supporters. Yingluck also posted a message on her Facebook page urging followers to stay away, saying she worried about their safety.

Thousands of people turned up outside the Bangkok court house anyway, though, along with thousands of police who erected barricades around the court. Prawit Pongkunnut, a 55-year-old rice farmer from the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima, said he came with 10 other farmers to show solidarity with Yingluck.

“We’re here to give her moral support because she truly cared and helped us out,” Prawit said. The rice subsidies, promised to farmers during the 2011 election, helped Yingluck’s party ascend to power. Critics say they were effectively a means of vote-buying, while Yingluck supporters welcomed them.

The rice subsidy plan Yingluck oversaw paid farmers about 50 percent more that they would have made on the world market. The hope was to drive up prices by stockpiling the grain, but other Asian producers filled the void instead, knocking Thailand from its perch as the world’s leading rice exporter.

The current government, which is still trying to sell off the rice stockpiles, says Yingluck’s administration lost as much as $17 billion because it couldn’t export at a price commensurate with what it had paid farmers.

In a separate administrative ruling that froze her bank accounts, Yingluck was held responsible for about $1 billion of those losses — an astounding personal penalty that prosecutors argued Yingluck deserved because she ignored warnings of corruption but continued the program anyway.

Associated Press journalists Grant Peck and Kankanit Wiriyasajja contributed to this report.

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Thai ex-PM urges supporters to stay away from court ruling

August 24, 2017

BANGKOK (AP) — Friends and foes alike of former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra are anxiously awaiting a verdict Friday by the Supreme Court on charges she was criminally negligent in implementing a rice subsidy program that is estimated to have cost the government as much as $17 billion and could send her to prison for 10 years.

Thousands of supporters had been expected to appear outside the courthouse to demonstrate their solidarity with Yingluck, but on Thursday she posted a message on her Facebook page urging them not to come. Yingluck said she was worried about their safety in case there is “chaos that could be instigated by a third party, as security officials have always said.”

“I want those who wish to support me to listen to the news from home, to avoid risking any unexpected problems that could arise from those who have ill-intentions toward the country and all of us,” she wrote, without naming anyone. She also said that security measures would make it impossible to interact face-to-face with supporters.

Thai authorities have earlier threatened legal action against anyone planning to help transport her supporters and announced plans for a massive deployment of security personnel outside the court, adding vague hints of possible violence that spurred scare headlines in local media.

The upcoming verdict is generally seen as a political judgment as much as a criminal one. The case against Yingluck is the latest in a decade-long offensive against the political machine founded and directed by her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup for alleged corruption and disrespect for the monarchy.

Thaksin, a telecommunications mogul, has been in self-imposed exile since 2008 to escape a prison sentence on a conflict of interest conviction. The 2006 coup triggered years of sometimes-violent battles for power between his supporters — mainly the less well-off rural majority who delivered him thumping election victories — and opponents — mainly royalists, members of the urban middle and upper classes, as well as the military, which in 2014 ousted Yingluck’s elected government.

Yingluck has appeared calm in the days leading up to the verdict, making merit at Buddhist temples and reportedly praying for a victory in Friday’s ruling. However the Supreme Court rules, the junta is likely to lose face, one analyst said.

If the court rules not guilty, “the generals will have egg on their face,” said Paul Chambers, a political scientist at Naresuan University in northern Thailand. The military’s reasoning for staging the 2014 coup was, in part, to rid the system of corrupt politicians.

If she is found guilty, “then the generals will have to deal with what comes next and that could be a martyr figure,” Chambers said. The rice subsidy was a flagship policy that helped Yingluck’s party win the 2011 general election. The government paid farmers about 50 percent above what they would have received on the world market, with the intention of driving up prices by warehousing the grain.

Instead, other rice-producing countries captured the market by selling at competitive prices. Vietnam as a result replaced Thailand as the world’s leading rice exporter. The military government said Wednesday it expects by next year to finally have sold off the stockpile of 17.8 million tons of rice the subsidy created. It has earned $40 million from the sales but calculates the government lost billions because it couldn’t export at a price commensurate with what it had paid farmers.

Yingluck already has been held responsible for about $1 billion of the losses in an administrative ruling that froze her bank accounts. Prosecutors in the criminal negligence trial argued that Yingluck ignored warnings of corruption in the subsidy program.

“I think the designer of the program did not think carefully, did not understand the functioning of the rice market, particularly the world rice market,” said Niphon Poapongsakorn from the Thailand Development Research Institute, who gave evidence at the trial.

“What they thought (about) was only the beneficial impact of the program, which is not a surprise because I believe the hidden agenda of the policy was to win a landslide election,” he said. Yingluck was ousted as prime minister by a court ruling involving a nepotism case shortly before the coup ejected her government. Since then, she has been formally impeached and banned from political office for five years.

The court cases and possible criminal conviction aside, Yingluck retains great popularity with her base. Millions, like farmer Gaysorn Petcharat, saw their incomes suddenly rise markedly. There was money to buy luxuries and to invest in their farms.

Now Gaysorn’s income has dropped sharply. But her loyalty to Yingluck is unwavering. “If you ask any farmer if they like Yingluck, they all like Yingluck because she was willing to help us,” she said, pausing from harvesting her field in Chachoengsao province outside Bangkok.

“She did her best for us. All my life I’ve never sold rice at such a good price as when she was prime minister,” she said. Yingluck denies the negligence charges. She told the court she was the victim of a “political game” aimed at crushing the Shinawatra clan, first her brother Thaksin, and now her.

Some analysts agree, and believe the prosecution’s approach sets a dangerous precedent. “I think it is clear enough that politics is involved in the Yingluck trial,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.

“I mean, this is a government that was elected in 2011 by a simple majority and it had a policy platform led by the rice pledging scheme. The scheme led to losses probably, but on the other hand, if we use this benchmark for other governments, then we could have a lot of government leaders in jail,” he said.

Surgeons remove 915 coins swallowed by Thai sea turtle

March 07, 2017

BANGKOK (AP) — Tossing coins in a fountain for luck is a popular superstition, but a similar belief brought misery to a sea turtle in Thailand from whom doctors have removed 915 coins. Veterinarians in Bangkok operated Monday on the 25-year-old female green sea turtle nicknamed “Bank,” whose indigestible diet was a result of many tourists seeking good fortune tossing coins into her pool over many years in the eastern town of Sri Racha.

Many Thais believe that throwing coins on turtles will bring longevity. Typically, a green sea turtle has a lifespan of around 80 years, said Roongroje Thanawongnuwech, dean of Chulalongkorn University’s veterinary faculty. It is listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The loose change eventually formed a heavy ball in her stomach weighing 5 kilograms (11 pounds). The weight cracked the turtle’s ventral shell, causing a life-threatening infection. Five surgeons from Chulalongkorn University’s veterinary faculty patiently removed the coins over four hours while “Bank” was under general anesthesia. The stash was too big to take out through the 10-cm (4-inch) incision they had made, so it had to be removed a few coins at a time. Many of them had corroded or partially dissolved.

“The result is satisfactory. Now it’s up to Bank how much she can recover,” said Pasakorn Briksawan, one of the surgical team. While recovering in Chulalongkorn University’s animal hospital, the turtle will be on a liquid diet for the next two weeks.

Bank was brought in to veterinarians by the navy, which found her ailing in her seaside hometown. It was only after a detailed 3D scan that veterinarians pinpointed the weighty and unexpected problem. As well as the coins they also found 2 fish hooks, which were also removed today.

The surgery team leader said Monday that when she discovered the cause of the turtle’s agony she was furious. “I felt angry that humans, whether or not they meant to do it or if they did it without thinking, had caused harm to this turtle,” said Nantarika Chansue, head of Chulalongkorn University’s veterinary medical aquatic animal research center.

Thai media began publicizing the turtle’s tale last month after she was found, and in response, some 15,000 baht ($428) in donations was raised from the public to pay for her surgery.

Associated Press writer Kaweewit Kaewjinda in Bangkok contributed to this story.

Crown prince formally becomes Thailand’s new king

December 01, 2016

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand has a new king, with the country’s crown prince formally taking the throne to succeed his much-revered late father, who reigned for 70 years. The new monarch, who received the title “His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun,” assumed his new position Thursday, according to an announcement broadcast on all TV channels. He will also be known as Rama X, the tenth king in the Chakri dynasty that was founded in 1782.

A videotaped broadcast showed senior officials presenting the formal invitation to the prince to become king, and then his acceptance. It then showed the officials prostrate themselves at the feet of the new king, who was wearing a formal white uniform with decorations.

Vajiralongkorn’s father, Bhumibol Adulyadej, died on Oct. 13 at age 88 after many years of ill health. In 1972, Bhumibol designated Vajiralongkorn — his second child and only son — as his successor. “I would like to accept in order to fulfill his majesty’s wishes and for the benefit of all Thais,” Vajiralongkorn said in the videotape.

Vajiralongkorn, 64, was originally expected to assume the throne the day his father died, but in a surprise announcement, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said the prince asked for the succession to be put off so he would have time to mourn.

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy — although currently under military rule — but Bhumibol played an important role in stabilizing his country through a time of enormous change which saw neighboring monarchies collapse under the pressures of the Vietnam War. He was especially known for his energy in development activities, doing hands-on inspections in remote rural areas. He calmed the country through several political crises.

Vajiralongkorn faces the challenges of a country that has become fractured over the past decade, as contending political forces engaged in bitter battles that sometimes turned violent, leaving a residue of bad feeling and shaking faith in the democratic system.

The new king, with a less intense interest in state affairs and a reputation as a playboy, does not command the same level of respect as Bhumibol. He has gone through divorces with three women who have borne him seven children, and in recent years has spent much of his time residing in Germany. Although most Thais are devoted to the royal institution, it is hard to gauge how they feel privately about Vajiralongkorn because of harsh laws that mandate a prison term of three to 15 years for anyone found guilty of insulting the monarchy.

Information about the succession has been tightly controlled, and international news broadcasts about Thailand have been blocked in recent days. The prince made his first public appearance in more than a week earlier Thursday, attending a religious ceremony honoring his late father. He was accompanied by his three sisters, two adult daughters and 11-year-old son.

Shortly afterward, he granted an audience to National Legislative Assembly President Pornpetch Wichitcholchai, Prime Minister Prayuth, Supreme Court Chief Justice Veerapol Tungsuwan and former Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda, who had been one of his father’s closest advisers and served as regent in the period since Bhumibol’s death.

The Cabinet, proceeding according to a 1924 law on succession, on Tuesday had forwarded to the National Legislative Assembly the late king’s appointment of his son to succeed him. The assembly in turn acknowledged the appointment, and its president then issued an invitation to Vajiralongkorn to become king.

Huge crowds have been paying respects to the late king’s remains at the ceremonial Grand Palace. His remains will be cremated in an elaborate ceremony that may take place a year or more after his death. The official coronation of Vajiralongkorn will occur only after the cremation. Bhumibol’s coronation was in 1950, four years after succeeding his brother King Ananda Mahidol, who died of gunshot wounds in unclear circumstances.

Associated Press journalists Tassanee Vejpongsa and Kaweewit Kaewjinda contributed to this report.

Preparations set for Thai prince to succeed to throne

December 01, 2016

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand prepared Thursday to welcome a new king, with final arrangements scheduled to formalize the accession of Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn to the throne. National Legislative Assembly President Pornpetch Wichitcholchai is set have an audience with the prince later Thursday to invite him to become king, a constitutional formality, according to the assembly Vice President Peerasak Porchit.

Pornpetch’s public announcement of Vajiralongkorn’s acceptance, expected Thursday night, will complete the succession process, making the 64-year-old prince King Rama X, the tenth monarch in the Chakri dynasty that was founded in 1782.

Vajiralongkorn’s father, the much-revered Bhumibol Adulyadej, who took the throne in 1946, died on Oct. 13 at age 88 after many years of ill health. In 1972, Bhumibol designated Vajiralongkorn — his second child and only son — as his successor.

Vajiralongkorn was originally expected to assume the throne the day his father died, but in a surprise announcement, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said the prince asked for the succession to be put off so he had time to mourn. In the interim, royal affairs have been overseen by a regent, Prem Tinsulanonda, who along with Prayuth and Supreme Court Chief Justice Veerapol Tungsuwan will accompany the assembly president at his audience to invite the prince to take the throne.

Thailand has been in a state of national mourning since Bhumibol’s death, and huge crowds have been paying respects to the late king’s remains at the Grand Palace in Bangkok. His body will be cremated in an elaborate ceremony that may take place a year or more after his death.

The coronation ceremony for Vajiralongkorn will take place only after the cremation.

White elephants, mahouts pay respects to late Thai king

November 08, 2016

BANGKOK (AP) — While tens of thousands of mourners have paid their respects to Thailand’s late king at Bangkok’s Grand Palace, where his body is being kept before cremation, a different kind of visitor appeared in front of the palace gates Tuesday.

Some 200 mahouts leading nine, specially chosen white elephants and two white-painted elephants arrived at the palace from around the country. The tusked giants and their riders kneeled in front of the palace gates in a sign of respect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died last month at age 88 after reigning for 70 years, while the royal anthem was played on a lone trumpet.

Mourners waiting to enter the palace cried as they witnessed the elephants’ prostrating. In Thailand, the white elephant is regarded as sacred and a symbol of royal power, according to the Thai Elephant Conservation Center. The white elephant was on Thailand’s national flag until 1917, but the symbol is still found on the ensign of the Royal Thai Navy. Historically, the statuses of kings were evaluated by the number of white elephants in their possession.

Ittipan Kaolamai, manager of the Royal Elephant Kraal and Village in Ayutthaya province, said nine elephants in Tuesday’s procession were white and two were painted, presumably to maintain conformity.

He said one of the two spray-painted elephants carried a portrait of Bhumibol on its back and the other carried a drummer.

Tributes for Thai king as concern swirls over nation’s future

Bangkok (AFP)

Oct 13, 2016

World leaders paid tribute to Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej as a champion of his people during a momentous seven-decade reign, as observers warned his death could plunge the country into renewed turmoil.

Bhumibol, whose reign witnessed regular bouts of political turmoil, coups and violent unrest, was revered as a serene and caring father of the nation, and a bulwark in troubled times.

His death Thursday at the age of 88, with Thailand under a military dictatorship, could cause fresh political tensions and economic hardship, analysts warned as his people come to terms with losing the only monarch most have ever known.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon hailed the king’s “long dedication to his country and his legacy as a unifying national leader… respected internationally”.

“The Secretary-General expresses his hope that Thailand will continue to honour King Bhumibol’s legacy of commitment to universal values and respect for human rights,” his spokesman said in a statement.

President Barack Obama praised the monarch as a “close friend” and partner of the United States.

He paid tribute to the king as a “tireless champion” for Thailand’s development, praising his “unflagging devotion” to improving the lives of his subjects.

“I had the honor of calling on His Majesty the King during my visit to Thailand in 2012, and recall his grace and warmth, as well as his deep affection and compassion for the Thai people,” he said.

Backed by an intense palace-driven personality cult, Bhumibol was revered as semi-divine by many in Thailand, and a towering leader above the din of the kingdom’s fractious political scene.

In his heydey he built a reputation as a people’s monarch, criss-crossing the nation to visit the rural poor and sometimes intervening to quell political violence — although he approved most of the army’s many coups during his reign.

– ‘Greatly missed’ –

Neighboring Singapore and Malaysia both expressed their sorrow at his passing, with the island city-state describing the king as “an outstanding and deeply revered monarch… (who) worked tirelessly for the betterment of the Thai people”.

President Vladimir Putin sent a telegram of condolence, saying that “during the decades of his reign he won the sincere love of his subjects and high prestige abroad”.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said Bhumibol “guided the Kingdom of Thailand with dignity, dedication and vision throughout his life. He will be greatly missed”.

Chinese President Xi Jinping hailed Bhumibol’s contribution to Thailand’s development, adding that the “good relationship” between Bangkok and Beijing were due in no small part to “personal efforts made by King Bhumibol himself”.

Bhumibol’s “rural development projects improved the lives of millions of people in Thailand” and will be remembered for generations to come, said EU President Donald Tusk and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “People of India and I join the people of Thailand in grieving the loss of one of the tallest leaders of our times, King Bhumibol Adulyadej”.

As concern mounted over the Bhumibol’s health in the days prior to his death, the stock market and baht currency tumbled. And analysts predict further jitters ahead.

“The death of Thailand’s highly revered king will plunge the country into a state of mourning, and also deep political uncertainty,” forecasters Capital Economics said in a note.

“The period of (relative) political calm since the 2014 coup has helped the economy recover… But renewed political instability could quickly derail this recovery.”

“Although the King has been unwell for a number of years and has had little or no influence on day-today policymaking for some time, he has continued to act as a unifying force in the country.”

Advisory group Bower Group Asia said all eyes would now be on the succession. The junta leader said Thursday that the named heir, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, has asked for time before being officially proclaimed the next monarch.

“During the mourning and transition period, the military will retain a firm grip over the country to ensure that the royal succession proceeds smoothly and does not become politicized,” it said.

Source: Space Daily.

Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Tributes_for_Thai_king_as_concern_swirls_over_nations_future_999.html.

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