Thailand hints at treason as red-shirt protesters shut down trains

Thailand’s government accused red-shirt protesters of plotting against the revered king, a charge they rejected as a pretext for cracking down. Protesters forced the train system to close Tuesday in an escalation of the weeks-long standoff.

By , Correspondent

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    A Thai soldier monitors movement below a Skytrain track Tuesday, in Bangkok, Thailand. Red-shirt protesters broke into an elevated rail station in Bangkok and threw tires on the platform Tuesday in their campaign to remove the government, prompting authorities to briefly suspend service and send soldiers to guard train stops.
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In a provocative move, Thailand’s beleaguered government has accused red-shirt protesters of plotting against the Thai crown, which is shielded from criticism by custom and law.

The news raised concerns among protesters that the authorities are trying to recast their rallies as traitorous in order to justify a crackdown.

It also came amid growing frustration on the streets of Bangkok over aggressive actions by antigovernment red shirts, including impromptu roadblocks and the closure Tuesday of a light-rail system after protesters threatened to throw tires on the tracks. Daily rallies by anti-red groups attract thousands of flag-waving supporters.

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An Army spokesman told reporters on Monday that an emergency committee chaired by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was investigating the alleged plot. Thai newspapers Tuesday reprinted an organizational chart that links protest leaders, opposition lawmakers, social activists, and media outlets. Mr. Abhisit was quoted as saying that “further action must be taken.”

Red-shirt protesters have ridiculed the claims and threatened to sue for defamation. “For now, we only want the dissolution of parliament,” says Jaran Ditapichai, one of the leaders. He said similar slurs had failed to stop the protest movement, now into its seventh week of nonstop rallies in the capital.

King weighs in

The accusation came on the same day that King Bhumibol Adulyadej made his first public speech in four months. A constitutional monarch, King Bhumibol has limited formal powers but retains great moral authority. Some Thais have called on him to adjudicate the current crisis, as he did after bloodshed in May 1992.

In his televised speech, the king told a group of newly appointed judges to do their job honestly, sustain order, and set an example for the public. He made no reference to the protests that have paralyzed parts of the capital and spread to the populous north. Some commentators parsed his words as a call for stability and even as a rebuke to cautious security chiefs.

Echoes of 1976 crackdown

Among older Thais, such allegations stir uneasy memories of October 1976, when security forces, backed by a royalist militia, massacred leftist student protesters accused of similar offenses. It is still illegal to criticize the royal family, and several activists have been jailed in recent years, drawing criticism from human rights groups. Analysts say the current protests are much broader and less ideological, making it hard to draw a direct comparison.

Despite their leaders’ public denials, some protesters are privately critical of the monarchy and accuse the royal family of interfering in politics.

“We love our king,” says Taveesak Apichainimitdee, a shop owner, at an anti-red rally over the weekend. Asked if the red shirts also loved the king, he replies, “only some of them.”

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