Concerns over Thailand detainees

Rights groups warn against secret detention of over 100 red-shirt protest leaders.

“Those who committed crimes should be properly charged, but all should be treated according to international human rights standards and due process of law”.

Still at large

Al Jazeera’s Aela Callan, reporting from Bangkok on Saturday, said that there were two hardline red-shirt leaders still at large, while those already captured were being held in secret locations.

Rights groups were concerned due to Thailand’s human-rights record, she said.

“Police said they were detaining protesters in dormitory accommodation and they could be held for 30 days without charge,” she said.

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Our correspondent further said the government has tried to justify its action against the red shirts by showing a cache of weapons alleged to have been found at the protest site in central Bangkok.

“But the red shirts will probably come out and say that there is no way of proving that this was found inside the camp,” she said.

Meanwhile, Thai troops continued searching for explosives while firefighters doused the embers of a torched luxury mall in central Bangkok.

For his part, Abhisit Vejjajiva, the prime minister, urged reconciliation in an address on Friday to the nation but made no offer of early elections, the main demand of protesters who had demonstrated in Bangkok for two months until troops moved on them this week.

“Let me reassure you that this government will meet these challenges and overcome these difficulties through the five-point reconciliation plan that I had previously announced,” he said.

The plan, first announced on May 3, offers political reforms, social justice and an investigation into political violence.

Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, a junior red-shirt leader, distributed a statement by the group on Friday calling for Abhisit and his deputy to step down to pave the way for reconciliation.

He also announced plans for the red shirts to hold new mass meetings, but a report on the website of Thailand’s Nation newspaper said he was arrested later in the day.

The military crackdown against the protesters on Wednesday left at least 15 people dead, bringing to 85 the number of people who have died since the first violence flared on April 10.

Wednesday’s violence also left nearly 100 people wounded, bringing to around 1,400 those who have been injured in the crisis.

Of the injured, more than 160 remain in hospital, 16 in intensive care, according to the Bangkok Post.

Shopping mall in ruins

The rioting and arson that followed the break-up of the rally left Central World, the second-biggest shopping mall in Southeast Asia, in ruins.

Firefighters were still active on the site on Saturday as troops secured the surrounding area, including the shopping district that had in effect been shut down since April 3 by thousands of red shirt protesters.

A red-shirt leader said protesters would gather again but he was later arrested [GALLO/GETTY]

Sirijan Ngathong, a deputy spokeswoman for the Thai army, said explosive devices had been found in buildings and cars near the demonstration site.

At least a dozen bank branches suffered arson attacks in the rioting.

Banks said they would reopen branches in shopping centres on Saturday after a two-day holiday declared by the central bank for security reasons.

Schools outside the 6sq-km central zone ringed off by soldiers will begin the new term on Monday, a week late.

Those inside will have to wait another week.

The elevated skytrain and underground railway system were still closed and traffic was clogged as drivers tried to find a way round the area cordoned off by the security forces.

An overnight curfew remains in force until Sunday morning.

Economic impact

The crisis has decimated the country’s tourism sector, which accounts for six per cent of GDP and employs 15 per cent of the workforce.

Korn Chatikavani, the finance minister, estimated the unrest that started in March had cut 0.3 to 0.5 of a percentage point off growth this year, which he expects to be between 4.5 and five per cent.

“Clearly, with the events that took place the past several weeks and pictures of those events flashing across TV screens around the world, it is going to have a very disastrous impact on tourism as a sector, probably, frankly speaking, for the remainder of the year,” Korn said in Tokyo on Friday.

But he said the economy could pick up fairly quickly if stability was now maintained.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies