World News

Thai junta gets tough on dissent after ex-PM banned from politics

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s junta said on Thursday it had summoned two opposition members “to amend their political way of thinking”, less than a week after former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was banned from politics.

The announcement comes after a lull in strong-arm tactics by the military following a coup last May that overthrew the government, ending months of protests in which about 30 people were killed.

Following the coup the military detained more than 200 people, among them journalists, activists and politicians perceived to be critical of the regime. Some were held for days and later released.

The junta, known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), has overseen a period of stability following the coup but has struggled to revive Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy.

Last Friday Thailand’s military-appointed legislature voted to ban Yingluck from politics for five years over her involvement in a state rice buying scheme that cost Thailand billions of dollars.

Yingluck’s fall from power has mirrored that of her brother Thaksin, who was deposed in a coup in 2006 and later fled the country.

Shinawatra supporters, among them members of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), a protest movement comprising mainly “red shirt” Thaksin supporters based in the populous north and northeast, have voiced concern over what they see as measures by the military government intended to weaken the family’s power base.

Lieutenant General Kampanart Ruddit said the army had summoned Chaturon Chaisaeng, a former education minister and Puea Thai Party member, to meet with the army officials.

“We have invited Chaturon Chaisaeng to meet us to amend and explain [his] political understanding,” Kampanart told Reuters.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who as army chief led the May coup, said the NCPO had also invited former foreign minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, a Puea Thai Party lawmaker, to “create understanding after they demonstrated political opinions following the [Yingluck] impeachment case”.

Thailand has been divided for nearly a decade between rival camps: one led by former telecommunications tycoon Thaksin and the other by the Bangkok-based royalist-military establishment.

Leaders of the pro-Thaksin red shirt group have been keeping a low profile since the coup. Many were forced by the army to sign documents promising not to participate in any political activities.

That has not stopped a wave of activism on social media including one campaign called: “If you pick up a red shirt, wear it on a Sunday and let’s be friends.”

Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Jeremy Laurence