June 8, 2010 / 10:07 AM / 9 years ago

Thais appoint political violence investigator

BANGKOK (Reuters) - The Thai government appointed a former attorney general on Tuesday to investigate recent political violence in which 89 people were killed, but the opposition rejected the nominee as biased.

A statue and a torn Thai national flag remain in front of Bangkok's Central World shopping mall, which was gutted by fire after army soldiers advanced towards an encampment of thousands of anti-government "red shirt" protesters, May 19, 2010. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

Anti-government protesters clashed with soldiers on the streets of the capital in April and May, raising concerns about the political and economic stability of southeast Asia’s second biggest economy.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva named Kanit Nannakorn, a prominent academic lawyer, to set up a fact-finding body to investigate the violence that ended when soldiers cleared protesters from a shopping district in central Bangkok.

“I have given him full independence to select a team and conduct a probe,” Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting.

The protesters were largely drawn from the ranks of supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a telecommunications billionaire who won widespread support among the rural and urban poor with populist policies.

Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup and later convicted of graft. He has lived in self-exile since 2008 and denied organising the protests in what critics saw as a bid to regain power.

The Puea Thai Party, largely made up of Thaksin’s political supporters and broadly allied with the “red shirt” protesters, criticised Kanit’s appointment.

“We maintain our call for an impartial international body to get involved. They cannot expect us to accept a panel led by someone close to the administration,” said a Puea Thai parliamentarian, Anudith Nakornthap.

Chalerm Yoobumrung, chairman of the Puea Thai Party, said Kanit was an ally of Abhisit’s Democrat party.

“SERIOUS ABUSES”

Kanit headed an investigation into accusations of the extrajudicial killing of at least 2,500 people in a “war on drugs” that Thaksin launched during his rule. Thaksin rejected the accusations of unlawful killings.

The protesters camped out in the city’s old quarter for three weeks and a main shopping district for six weeks demanding an election. They said Abhisit had no popular mandate and had come to power illegitimately through backroom parliamentary deals with the help of the powerful military.

Protesters said authorities used excessive force.

The government has denied accusations that troops fired at unarmed civilians, saying soldiers faced shadowy gunmen it called terrorists, armed with automatic rifles and grenades, who emerged form the ranks of the protesters to attack the soldiers.

New York-based Human Rights Watch accused both sides of committing “serious abuses” and called for an independent investigation.

“A one-sided inquiry will undermine efforts to reach a political solution,” said Elaine Pearson, the group’s acting director for the region, in a statement.

Authorities have issued arrest warrants for at least 818 people for involvement in the violence, said army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd. He said more than 200 people had been apprehended for crimes related to the violence and another 29 detained under a state of emergency.

Emergency measures were imposed in Bangkok on April 7 and extended to cover 23 provinces during the violence. Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said the decree would be in place at least until July.

Also on Tuesday, police apprehended a 27-year-old protester suspected of setting fire to Central World, Southeast Asia’s second-biggest shopping complex, following the military crackdown. The mall was among dozens of buildings set afire following the dispersal.

Writing by Ambika Ahuja; Editing by Robert Birsel and Alex Richardson

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