Possible election in Thailand’s future

By: Laura Milton


BANGKOK (AP) — A brief interruption in some television broadcasts Thursday stoked fears of a military coup in Thailand, where an election is expected to be called within weeks, but the government said a satellite glitch was the problem.

A technical difficulty in operating a ThaiCom satellite blacked out signals for several stations over a wide part of the country, Songporn Komolsuradet, an official from the Ministry of Information and Technology, told the TPBS TV network. She said the exact cause of the problem was not immediately clear. The duration of the blackout varied, about a minute to much longer.

It set off jitters that a coup might be underway, because it seemingly confirmed widespread speculation that the military was set to seize power. Taking control of broadcasting outlets is a basic coup tactic, and Thailand’s politically assertive military has made a series of truculent statements and actions this week in a show of strength.

Military coups have been frequent in modern Thailand: 18 of them since the 1930s.

King-Bhumibol-Adulyadej of Thailand

King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand

Thai politics is in a period of high anxiety as Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is expected to dissolve parliament in the next few weeks for general elections. He said Thursday the elections would be held as planned and he expected the new government to be formed in August.

The election will be the next in a series of battles between opponents and supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled in a 2006 coup after being accused of corruption and disrespect to Thailand’s constitutional monarch, 83-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The country has been politically unstable since then, most dramatically last year when the Red Shirts — made up mostly of Thaksin supporters — staged aggressive demonstrations in the middle of Bangkok seeking to drive Abhisit from power. Protest-related violence and the army crackdown that restored order killed about 90 people and injured more than 1,400.

Leaders of the Red Shirt movement just hours before Thursday’s broadcast disruption accused the army of preparing for a coup, citing two military exercises held in the capital this week, along with other actions.

The top brass have all specifically denied planning a takeover.

However, army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha has frequently stressed the military’s duty to protect the monarchy. Last week, he ordered a complaint lodged with police charging Red Shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan and two others with lese majeste, alleging they insulted the monarch in speeches at an April 10 rally.

There are fears the army would not accept an election victory by the Puea Thai Party, who are the political allies of the Red Shirts and standard bearers for the cause of Thaksin, who fled into exile before being sentenced to two years for corruption.

Another key Red Shirt leader, Nattawut Saikua, said the army’s recent moves could be seen as registering dissatisfaction over alleged remarks against the monarch, but he claimed he had information that it actually amounted to “the Army’s roll call for preparedness to stage a coup.”

“Some units even announced how soon they could be ready in minutes or hours,” Nattawut said at a news conference, without revealing the source of his information.

Nattawut also claimed a high-ranking Army source said the military has been planning to block the polls because “all signs and polls have concluded that the Puea Thai Party will win the elections.”


Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

Bomb-making materials found in Nigeria

by Lauren Carter


LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — A large amount of bomb-making equipment has been found in a restive city in central Nigeria, raising concerns of election-related violence just weeks ahead of national polls, authorities said Wednesday.

Brig. Gen. Hassan Umaru said the materials were found Tuesday in a house in a residential neighborhood in the city of Jos.

Materials included lab equipment, a timer, an instructional manual on bomb-making, and dozens of detonators. Security experts say that only one detonator is required to make a bomb in most cases and their number suggests that the suspects intended to build multiple devices.

Plateau state police spokesman Abdurrahman Akano declined to comment on the material, pending a report from the police’s anti-bomb squad.

Police arrested three suspects in connection with the discovery, which comes two weeks after soldiers stopped trucks loaded with weapons and explosives heading for Jos. Authorities said they carried more than 33,000 pounds (15,000 kilograms) of ammunition along with explosive material, detonators and other equipment used to make bombs.

“We can’t leave any room for these items to be used or there will be serious chaos,” Umaru said, adding that the ammunition was being brought into the city by people “who want to cause confusion” ahead of April polls. Nigerians will vote for a new president on April 9 and new governors on April 16.

Election violence has already started in the deeply divided city of Jos. An Associated Press reporter counted four dead bodies and four wounded people at a mosque after violence broke out Monday at an opposition party rally in Jos. The bodies were taken to the Jos Central Mosque for burial according to Islamic rites.

The Congress for Progressive Change accused police of causing the deaths by firing on attendees. Police denied that charge and said party supporters came armed with machetes and homemade petro-bombs.

Jos is the epicenter of religious violence in Nigeria’s “middle belt” where the country’s predominantly Muslim north meets a mostly Christian south. Attackers in the region, however, had not been known to use industrial bombs until a few months ago.

“The use of explosive devices is relatively new in the (state) but the December bombings brought in a new dimension in this regard,” Umaru said after multiple Christmas Eve bombings in Jos left at least 32 dead last year.

Two bombs went off near a large market where people were doing last-minute Christmas shopping. A third hit a mainly Christian area of Jos, while the fourth was near a road that leads to the city’s main mosque.

Violence in Jos, though fractured across religious lines, often has more to do with local politics, economics and rights to grazing lands. The government of Plateau state, where Jos is the capital, is controlled by Christian politicians who have blocked Muslims from being legally recognized as citizens. That has locked many out of prized government jobs in a region where the tourism industry and tin mining have collapsed in the last decades.


Associated Press writer Ahmed Saka contributed to this report from Jos, Nigeria.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press