Thai Parliament Votes For Constitutional Reform

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THAILAND'S parliament yesterday began an overhaul of the Constitution a day after the resignation of the military-backed prime minister as a result of a popular uprising.

By an overwhelming margin, lawmakers gave initial approval to reforms demanded by hundreds of thousands of Thais who demonstrated on the streets last week against six decades of military dominance. At least 48 demonstrators were killed by troops ordered to disperse them with gunfire.

Prime Minister Suchinda Kraprayoon, a former Army chief, resigned Sunday because of outrage over the bloodshed. Protestors had daily demanded his resignation; he was appointed prime minister last month by five military-backed parties with a majority in Parliament although he had not run in the national election.

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Parliament's initial action was to pass an amendment reducing the military's power in Parliament. The amendment says the president of Parliament must be the Speaker of its popularly elected lower house. Currently, the president is the Speaker of the military-appointed Senate.

Other amendments being considered would require the prime minister to come from the ranks of elected lawmakers and bar the Senate from voting on legislation.

Each measure must be voted on three times, but passage is almost assured because the reforms have the support both of the government parties and the opposition, as well as the endorsement of widely revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

There is disagreement, however, over how soon the reforms will take effect. Opposition parties want the changes effective immediately upon passage, while the government parties want an interim period.

By early afternoon, about 2,000 people had gathered peacefully outside the Parliament, listening to speeches by pro-democracy activists and holding up pictures of those killed last week.

Some demanded that the five governing parties and the military chiefs take responsibility for the killings.

Many Thais are not satisfied with Suchinda's resignation. They are demanding that he and top Army brass - including his brother-in-law, Army chief Gen. Issarapong Noonpackdee - be punished for the killings.

They have condemned Suchinda's declaration of an amnesty for himself and all others involved in the crackdown.

Pro-democracy leader Chamlong Srimuang, who was arrested along with thousands of other protesters last week and later released at the king's urging, said as he entered Parliament that all political parties, academics, and the people "are doing whatever they can so that the amnesty does not affect the wrongdoers but only the innocent people."

"The innocent people, including myself, are ready to fight in court because the military used the rallies as a pretext" for suppressing the pro-democracy movement, he said.

Suchinda was spotted at a Buddhist temple Sunday morning but his whereabouts since have been unknown.

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