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Thailand News: Bangkok creeps back to life; Junta wants reforms before elections; Key figures report to NPOMC

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Thailand News: Bangkok creeps back to life; Junta wants reforms before elections; Key figures report to NPOMC | The Thaiger
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PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

– Thailand news compiled by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Capital creeps back to life
The Nation / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: An uneasy calm settled over Bangkok yesterday as one of the world’s most vibrant cities crept back to life after a night-time curfew imposed by the military.

The capital’s usual morning gridlock was relieved as schools were shuttered following an Army order, but many people returned to work as normal, stopping at food stalls which opened following the end of the curfew at 5am.

In contrast to the last coup in 2006, there were no tanks on the streets and only a limited deployment of soldiers at key buildings.

Senior politicians who were ordered to report to the military have felt the direct impact. But for the public, the curfew was met with humour and stoicism in a city whose recent history has been pockmarked by political unrest.

For Thanakan Chalaemprasead the most distressing aspects of the coup so far are the loss of his favourite TV shows – after the Army ordered the suspension of normal programming – and the early closure of the city’s ubiquitous 7-Eleven stores.

“I was hungry, but I only had instant noodles at home,” the 21-year-old mechanic said. “There was also nothing on TV. If the Army wants us to stay home, they should at least let us watch something.”

Instead, TVs and radios blared patriotic music punctuated by statements from a military spokesman.

Overnight the commercial heart of the city, famed for its 24-hour beat, was reduced to a near ghost town, with only the occasional taxi plying the roads as the curfew descended. A smattering of bars breached the order serving beers to bemused tourists, who were holed up in their hotels.

But there were few direct signs of military intervention, after a dramatic day of Army deployments and televised orders threatening further curbs on media and personal freedoms – including a ban on political gatherings of more than five people.

As dawn broke yesterday armed troops were seen around Government House overseeing a clean up after protesters were dispersed from their sandbagged encampment.

Reporters also saw Army officers giving alms to Buddhist monks outside a nearby temple, as a bulldozer removed sand-bags and concrete blocks from the vacated protest site.

After months of disruptive political rallies, some city residents expressed optimism that the coup would cut a path through the political paralysis, which has seen at least 28 people killed and hundreds more wounded in protest-linked clashes.

“At first I thought the coup was a bad idea,” Vichit Kriyasaun, 27, said. “But now I think it could be good because they may stop the fighting.”

However, others were wearied by the latest chapter in a festering crisis that has torn Thailand apart since 2006, when former PM Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted. The curfew will remain in place nationwide until the Army says otherwise.

Last groups of protesters get marching orders
The Nation / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: The last groups of protesters from both sides of the political divide left their rally sites yesterday, as police and soldiers were sent to dismantle their barricades, bunkers and makeshift camps.

Protesters were transported on military buses to the Southern Bus Terminus and the Hua Lamphong Railway Station.

The operation began at about 5.30am on Rajdamnoen Avenue, where the protest sites of the anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee and the Student and People Network for Thailand’s Reform were located.

More than 200 policemen and soldiers, helped by cleaners and street sweepers from the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, cleared and cleaned the sites near Government House.

Two military trucks and an excavator were also used in the operation.

Barbed-wire fences and piles of tyres were removed, as the last group of anti-government protesters were packing their belongings at the protest site near Makkhawan Rangsan Bridge.

A number of weapons were discovered by soldiers searching the protest site, including a tear-gas launcher, teargas canisters, imitation shotguns, bulletproof vests, and teargas masks. The objects were handed over to police.

Roads around the three protest sites remained closed to traffic yesterday, with the roads to be reopened once the authorities were sure the sites were safe. Officers from bomb disposal units scanned the sites for possible explosives.

There were no reports of injuries or deaths at the rally site of the pro-government red shirts on Aksa Road after soldiers dispersed their demonstration on Thursday evening, according to Dr Kongdej Leethochavalit, a senior public health official in Nakhon Pathom where ousted government supporters had gathered.

There was only little resistance to the military, with sporadic gunshots reported.

In a related development, seven home-made bombs were found inside a men’s toilet at a petrol station on Lan Luang Road yesterday morning. The bombs were wrapped in black tape and hidden inside a garbage bin.

Junta wants sweeping reforms before election
The Nation / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: Military junta chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha yesterday pushed forward a reform agenda and made the payment of debts to farmers under the rice-pledging scheme a top priority after Thursday’s coup, which he called a sacrifice for the nation to build unity and end conflicts.

The monarchy has nothing to do with the seizure of power, Prayuth was quoted as saying to officers at a meeting of the junta’s National Peace and Order Maintaining Council (NPOMC) yesterday.

The NPOMC began to formulate an action plan to bring the country back to normalcy. Prayuth told yesterday’s meeting of agency heads that funds have been allocated to repay debts owed to rice farmers under the ousted government’s rice-pledging scheme. He expressed confidence that within 15-20 days the debts should be repaid.

Priority has been given to hunting down people the junta considers its opponents.

More than 100 people, including former PM Yingluck Shinawatra, were summoned before the junta yesterday. Many people such as former education minister Chaturon Chaisang however refused to comply, saying they disagreed with the coup and had done nothing wrong.

The military believes underground movements would soon surface to oppose the coup. The previous junta of the 2006 coup faced severe resistance from armed groups.

An anti-coup group yesterday confronted the military near Bangkok Art Centre in Pathumwan.

The second task in the plan outlined yesterday was to enhance Thailand’s image internationally by inviting diplomatic corps based in Thailand to explain the reasons for the coup.

Diplomats and representatives from 58 countries attended the meeting, but ambassadors of major embassies in the capital, such as US Ambassador Kristie Kenney and German Ambassador Rolf Schulze, did not attend.

Kenney told the media that she was busy with another engagement. Schulze said that he did not want to be involved in the activities of the Thai military. Many other embassies also did not

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Thailand News Today | State of Emergency lifted, Quarantine latest, Phuket Light Rail | October 22

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Government lifts Bangkok’s State of Emergency

Bangkok’s State of Emergency has been lifted, according to a statement published in the Royal Gazette, making it official.

The order, that banned public gatherings over 5 people, and censoring critical media commentary, was imposed last Thursday morning by PM Prayut Chan-o-cha, leading to the breaking up a protest and the arrests of a number of activists.

Despite the State of Emergency, protesters ignored the orders and rallies only grew over the past week.

The emergency order also banned content on websites and social media considered to be a “threat to national security.” Some Thai media outlets covering the protests were under fire, and authorities tried to suspend them under the emergency order. The court dismissed the requests to block those media companies, saying the Thai Constitution does not give the court power to shut down media platforms.

Large protest group amassed at Government House

The lifting of the State Emergency follows two key events last night.

A large, prepared protest group that marched on Government House demanding the resignation of the Thai PM – they even prepared a letter for him all ready to sign. Police had 2 buses, barbed wire and water cannon trucks, along with riot police, awaiting them. Both sides seemed poised for a confrontation but protests leaders peacefully dispersed the crowd at 9.35pm. The other was an address on national TV by Prayut Chan-o-cha, asking protesters to stand down and participate in dialogue with the government.

Negative Covid-19 results for first group on the Special Tourist Visa

Surely, the most anticipated and followed tourists ever to grace Thailand’s shores. All 39 visitors who flew in from China this week on the new Special Tourist Visa have tested negative for Covid-19. While it’s a small group, they’re the first foreign tourists to arrive since travel restrictions were imposed in late-March.

More international tourists are expected to arrive next week under the auspices of the new Special Tourist Visa. If there are no positive Covid-19 cases in the first groups, the government says they could start to lift restrictions, like cutting down the mandatory quarantine period, or allowing more applicants under the STV.

Groups from China and Scandanavian countries are the next arrivals under the STV in the next few weeks.

Health Minister says quarantine could be reduced to 10 days, maybe eventually zero

Health officials have confirmed that they are ready to reduce the mandatory quarantine period for foreign tourists, provided other relevant bodies agree.

The current quarantine period is set at 14 days, but the Public Health Minister says this could be reduced to 10. He adds that if the reduction is successful, quarantine could be further reduced, eventually reaching a point where quarantine is no longer a requirement.

“The truth is, the Public Health Ministry is ready for the change, but other relevant agencies still have requested time to adjust. So, we have to wait and work together.”

4.4 million methamphetamine pills seized near Laos border

Police seized 4.4 million methamphetamine pills worth more than 400 million baht after a police chase in the northeast near the Thai-Laos border.

Thai media reports that the alleged drug traffickers threw black bags full of the drugs out onto the road during the police chase and drove off into a rubber farm in the Bung Kla district.

Police had received a tip about drugs allegedly being trafficked across the Mekong River and were tracking a truck driving fast by the river.

Police searched the bags which contained over 4 million methamphetamine pills. Police also found 2,970 ecstasy pills.

Since October 1, the Royal Thai Navy has been involved in 18 drug trafficking busts, seizing methamphetamine, ecstasy, heroin and marijuana, totalling around 2.7 billion baht.

Phuket light rail study goes to Cabinet for approval

The Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand has approved the findings of a study on Phase 1 development of a light rail system in Phuket.

The first phase, budgeted at 35 billion baht, will run 42 kilometres from Phuket Airport to Chalong intersection.

The findings of the study will be tabled in the Cabinet in 12 months time. If approved, bidding for joint investment will begin in early 2022, with trams expected to start running in 2026.

The service will have 21 stations, of which 19 will be at ground level, one at elevated level and one underground.

Critics say the route won’t do much to benefit local communities and that the main Thepkasattri Road artery will be severely disrupted during the years of construction.

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Thailand

Foreign yachts allowed to dock in Thailand, tourists to quarantine onboard

Caitlin Ashworth

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Foreign yachts allowed to dock in Thailand, tourists to quarantine onboard | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Unsplash: Marcin Ciszewski

Overseas yachts are now allowed to dock in Thailand, but foreign tourists and crew members still need to adhere to strict health measures, according to the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration. Tourists will need to quarantine onboard the yacht for 14 days and be tested for Covid-19 tests 3 times before entering Thailand, according to the CCSA spokesperson Taweesilp Visanuyothin.

So far, there’s around 60 yachts, each with about 600 to 650 tourists and crew members, that looking to dock in Thailand. The 27 superyachts and 33 cruisers could generate an income of 2.1 million baht.

Along with yachts, foreign ships are allowed to dock in Thailand to change vessels and head back to sea, the spokesperson says. Seafarers must also go through a 14 day quarantine period.

The spokesperson didn’t go into detail about the visa requirements for the tourists and crew members travelling to Thailand on a yacht. Recently, Thailand started issuing the Special Tourist Visa to travellers from countries considered a low risk for spreading the coronavirus.

“At this stage, the countries considered as low-risk by the Department of Disease Control are China, Macao, Taiwan, Sweden, and Finland, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand.”

SOURCE: Phuket News

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Thailand at the crossroads. The anti-government protesters vs Thai establishment – VIDEO

The Thaiger

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Thailand at the crossroads. The anti-government protesters vs Thai establishment – VIDEO | The Thaiger

Click to watch the video…

This video provides some background of the protests and their challenge ahead. They are battling a deeply entrenched “establishment”, including the Army, the government, the Bangkok ‘elite’ and years of conservative traditions protecting the revered Thai monarchy. The protesters are young, educated and motivated. The government controls the levers of power. What will happen?

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Whilst the daily media coverage of the current protests in Thailand might give you the impression that Thailand is in some sort of chaotic mess, it’s really nothing like that.

Yes, there are some protests going on in isolated parts of the city. Yes, they’re disruptive to local traffic and they are getting plenty of media attention. But the vast majority of Thais, whilst many will be keeping abreast of the developments, are just getting on with their life and much of what you’d call Thai life is bubbling along like usual.

On the other hand Thailand is coming to terms with an economy mostly devoid of tourism. People are rearranging their lives and finding new jobs, but again, it’s not as if there are long lines of unemployed, beggars or starving people. In most locations around Thailand, leaving out some of the tourist hot spots, like Phuket, Pattaya and Koh Samui, life is just plugging on. Even in those locations, once out of the touristy parts, the local economies are adapting and managing.

The people losing their work from tourism have, mostly, headed home to their families and are getting absorbed into family businesses or community life. It’s a cultural resilience that is helping Thailand adapt and survive, even thrive in some sectors, during the worldwide pandemic.
There isn’t even any tangible link between the two issues – the Covid-19 pandemic and the current protest movement. The push for change of the political status quo has been brewing ever since the current government seized power in 2014, firstly as an Army-led coup against the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra, and then after the March 2019 election, when the coup leaders were able to cobble together a workable, and at least on paper, legitimate government.

But be assured, Covid-19 pandemic or not, this protest movement would have surfaced anyway and is driven by idealism and political evolution, not the pandemic or economy. The protesters are mostly educated students from middle class families and they’ve never once made mention of the lack of tourists or even the broader Thai economy. They’re not disaffected opposition politicians, or even identify with the old red shirt/yellow shirt protests. They are mostly fresh, younger voices.

The protesters’ demands have been unfalteringly consistent. Based on a 10 point manifesto, first read out at Thammasat University’s Rangsit Campus on August 10 this year.

The demands are that the Thai PM resign, that the parliament is dissolved for a fresh election, that a new constitution is written to replace the 2017 Charter and that officials stop harassing protesters and people speaking out against the government. Most of those would be the sorts of things you may expect from opposition MPs or anti-government protesters. But this time they spiced up their wish list with a controversial demand for changes in the role of the country’s revered monarchy. They have strenuously denied that they want to get rid of the Thai monarchy, instead, they want a new constitution to codify the role of the Thai monarch and limit the powers which they claim, are currently unfettered.

The hurdle for change, however, is that the current system is stacked against just about everything the protesters are demanding, especially the changes to the role of the Thai monarchy.

For any of these changes to take place there will have to be a national consensus, a new constitution and some sort of response, even involvement from the Palace.

The students are demanding change, now, but the reality is that, for a peaceful transition, there will certainly need to be constructive discussions, a desire to change and a passage of time. None of that, given the history of Thai coups and the role of the Army, appears likely at the moment.

Whilst the government is trying to diffuse the situation by calling emergency sessions of parliament, even offers to drops the State of Emergency or release some of the arrested protesters, there is still an enormous political gulf between the demands of the protesters and the government’s preparedness to change.

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