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Ex-minister forms Thai opposition group from exile

June 24, 2014

BANGKOK (AP) — A member of the elected Thai government ousted by last month’s coup formed an opposition group in exile Tuesday, invoking historical symbols of resistance and revolution while rejecting as illegitimate the new military regime.

There was no immediate sign the group established by former Interior Minister Charupong Reuangsuwan would attract much public support in Thailand, where the junta maintains a massive security presence and has detained people even for silent, brief acts of dissent.

Charupong said in an open letter to Thais read on YouTube and posted on Facebook that the Organization of Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy rejects the junta’s authority.

His statement described the coup as “an outrageous act that has violated both Thai and international laws.”

“The military regime and its conspirators have no legitimate power whatsoever to govern the country’s economy and society,” it said. It charged that “the junta has violated the rule of law, abused democratic principles, and destroyed your rights, liberties, and human dignity.”

Junta spokesman Col. Winthai Suvaree told reporters the government did not know where the group was operating, but that Thailand’s foreign ministry had informed other countries that such activities could create problems. He said the group’s declaration was “merely words” and that the junta was happy to let other nations see that Thailand was “adhering to humanitarian principles.”

The new group was founded on the anniversary of the revolution in 1932 that changed Thailand from an absolute monarchy into a constitutional one. Its name touches on another historical reference, incorporating “Seri Thai” — “Free Thai” — which was what Thailand’s World War II anti-Japanese resistance movement was called.

The declaration said the “Seri Thai” term “has a deep resonance with ordinary Thais, reflecting their genuine desires for freedom and dignity.”

Charupong led the Pheu Thai Party that won the 2011 election, and served under Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 coup. Since then, supporters and opponents of Thaksin have fought a sometimes violent battle for power.

Yingluck’s opponents launched aggressive street protests last year to demand she hand over power to an appointed interim government that would make anti-corruption reforms. The army said its May 22 coup was necessary to end violence and political chaos.

Charupong defied its order to surrender, apparently fleeing to neighboring Cambodia, though his statement did not say where the opposition movement would be based. Cambodian officials have said they would not allow activities against Thailand to be conducted there.

Little open resistance to the military takeover has occurred inside Thailand, despite earlier vows of Yingluck’s supporters to fight against such a move.

The junta has threatened its opponents with harsh jail terms, and very little dissent is tolerated: The public reading of books such as George Orwell’s “1984” and even the distribution of free sandwiches to passersby, if intended as a political protest, are grounds for immediate arrest.

The military has summoned hundreds of people for discussion, interrogation and detention — usually for a maximum of a week — to promote obeisance to its rule. Those detained are made to sign statements promising not to engage in political activities or instigate unrest.

Charupong was one of a handful of people who defied the summons, and an arrest warrant was issued. He has resigned as Pheu Thai party leader, evidently to distance his new activities from his old party.

Another group founder is Jakrapob Penkair, a former government spokesman who like Charupong is known for his loyalty to Thaksin. Jakrapob fled to Cambodia in 2010 after being accused of lese majeste — insulting the monarchy— a crime carrying a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.

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