Monday, 14 July 2008

Foes want Thai govt and Thaksin charged in temple row

Mon Jul 14, 2008
By Pracha Hariraksapitak

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Protesters marched on the offices of Thailand's graftbusting agency on Monday to press for criminal charges against the government for its role in a dispute over an ancient temple on the Thai-Cambodian border.

The 500 marchers led by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) handed over a petition accusing the cabinet of agreeing to cede land to Cambodia in return for business concessions for ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The charge has been denied by Thaksin and the government in Cambodia, where the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple was approved as a World Heritage site this month.

"We are exercising our constitutional rights to preserve our territory after the cabinet passed a resolution that was ruled illegal by the Constitutional Court," PAD leader Somsak Kosaisuk said at the National Counter Corruption Commission office.

Preah Vihear, built by Khmer kings in the 11th century, sits on top of a jungle-clad escarpment that forms a natural boundary between Cambodia and Thailand.

It has been a source of tension for decades, but anti-government groups whipped up nationalist fervour over the temple's listing, accusing Bangkok of selling the country's heritage.

The Constitutional Court ruling last week that Thailand's initial support for the temple listing had violated the charter gave the PAD another weapon to attack the pro-Thaksin government.

The coalition of activists, royalists and businessmen has waged a nearly two-month-old street campaign to oust Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, accusing his government of trying to protect Thaksin from graft charges.

The PAD petition accused Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup, of conspiring to cede Thai territory for his personal gain.

NCCC Secretary-General Saravuth Maenasavet told reporters the agency would decide on Tuesday whether it would investigate the Preah Vihear case.

If it believed the cabinet broke the law, the NCCC would forward its findings to the Supreme Court for a ruling which could lead to the government's impeachment by the Senate.

Samak, under pressure from legal cases that already cost him two ministers last week, has blamed the crisis on the 2007 constitution, designed by the coupmakers to give judges more oversight powers in politics.

Shrugging off looming lawsuits and potentially intensifying street protests, he vowed in his weekly TV show on Sunday to rewrite the charter, reshuffle his cabinet and unveil an economic stimulus package on Tuesday.

The prospect of further strife worried investors who pushed the main stock index down 1.6 percent at the midday break on Monday. The market is down nearly 18 percent since the street campaign began on May 25.

(Writing by Nopporn Wong-Anan; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Valerie Lee)

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