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Top lizard poacher arrested
Tuesday 22 February 2011, 03:37AM
 One of Thailand's most prolific lizard poachers was arrested with hundreds of water monitor lizards destined for Chinese dinner plates, authorities said on February 17. More than 200 reptiles were discovered in water-filled tanks in Boonlue Prasitsom's warehouse in Ang Thong Province, central Thailand, during a morning raid by Thai Nature Crime Police. "At first we didn't expect to find so many lizards, but it turned out to be a lot. He is one of Thailand's main lizard poachers," inspector Kiattisak Bamrungsawat, deputy commander of the wildlife force said. He said Mr Boonlue was believed to be planning to smuggle the creatures through Laos into China on Friday. The arrest is part of a crackdown on lizard smuggling as Thailand struggles to stem the flow of protected species through its borders. Conservation group Freeland Foundation said the raid was an "important step" in an investigation into a criminal network that authorities believe is behind "trafficking huge amounts of threatened wildlife into China". "Freeland congratulates the Thai Nature Crime Police for acting swiftly and professionally on a tip-off that has put a wildlife criminal out of business, while freeing hundreds of wild animals," said the organisation's director Steven Galster. Mr Boonlue had allegedly been poaching lizards from the wild for over 10 years, Mr Freeland said. Police were clearly impressed with the suspect's skills at handling the creatures and even required his help in transporting them. "I think he is the best lizard catcher in Thailand, he is very professional," Inspector Kiattisak said. Boonlue now faces a maximum of four years in prison and a 40,000 baht fine (about $1,300). Monitor lizards are a common sight in Thailand's waterways and police said the protected species is poached for export, mainly to China and Vietnam where they are prized for their meat. Freeland said both countries are the major consumers of Southeast Asia's protected reptiles and the region is a source of illegal wildlife "supplying a vast global market whose profit margins are surpassed only by drugs and arms". Last week police arrested an Indonesian man carrying hundreds of live animals in his airport luggage, including dozens of snakes and one of the world's rarest tortoises. He is thought to have picked them up at one of Bangkok's biggest markets.
General election
Tuesday 22 February 2011, 03:21AM
Thailand will hold a general election by the middle of this year, the deputy prime minister said last Thursday, setting the stage for a fierce poll battle in the politically divided nation. "I guarantee that it will happen before June," Suthep Thaugsuban told reporters when asked about the timing of the keenly-awaited vote. His comments followed the passing of a mid-year budget and recent constitutional amendments, which the government had set as a prerequisite for an early election, along with peaceful conditions for the polls. Mass protests last April and May by the "Red Shirt" opposition movement -- which was seeking immediate elections - left more than 90 people dead in street clashes between demonstrators and armed soldiers. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said last week an election would be held in the first half of this year if there was no fresh violence. The British-born, Oxford-educated head of the establishment Democrat Party must call a vote by the end of this year, when his term finishes. Mr Abhisit defied sceptics last year to survive Thailand's worst political crisis in decades, and many observers expect the Democrats to cling to power for another term, possibly by forming another coalition with smaller partners. "This government will be re-elected," said Somjai Phagaphasvivat, a political science professor at Bangkok's Thammasat University. "Puea Thai (the main opposition party) will get lot of votes but not enough seats to form a government, while the Democrats will gain more votes and will collaborate with its current coalition partners to stay in power." At the height of the Red Shirt crisis, Abhisit proposed holding a poll in November 2010 to resolve the stand-off, but shelved the plan because demonstrators refused to disperse until the army moved in. In the months after the military broke up the rally, the capital was rattled by a string of minor explosions while it was under emergency rule. Somjai said he believed the Red Shirts had been weakened by their failure to achieve their goal last year. "Some people disagreed with their violent way. The Red Shirts need to adjust their strategy but it will be harder for them because a new election is coming. Violence will continue but will be less severe," he said. There is also uncertainty about whether the opposition will be able to translate strong support for the Reds, particularly in the rural northeast, into success at the ballot box.
Red Shirts rally to mark crackdown
Tuesday 22 February 2011, 03:02AM
  Thousands of Thai "Red Shirts" gathered in Bangkok on Saturday to mark nine months since a bloody crackdown on their anti-government rally and to press for the release of detained leaders. Police estimated around 30,000 protesters massed in the city at the peak of the rally, which had crossed from Bangkok's retail heart to Democracy Monument, both sites of bloodshed during last year's April and May demonstration. Dressed in their trademark colour and waving banners, flags and plastic clappers, the crowd cheered loudly as the movement's key figures spoke to protesters. "We came today to ask for justice for our people who died exactly nine months ago at this place," said Thida Thavornseth, leader of Red Shirt movement. "They died for our fight we will ask for justice for them from those who do not show either political responsibility or legal responsibility," she said. More than 90 died and nearly 1,900 were injured in clashes between protesters and the army during the two-month rallies in 2010 calling for immediate elections. Thailand's political landscape has remained fractured since the unrest. The mainly rural, working class Reds are broadly loyal to fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and lives overseas to avoid a jail sentence for corruption imposed in absentia. They view Thailand's current government as undemocratic because it came to power in 2008 in a parliamentary vote with the backing of the army after a court ruling threw out the previous administration. This week Thailand's deputy prime minister suggested elections would be called by June. Many key Red Shirt leaders remain in prison on terrorism charges and the protest movement has held a series of peaceful one-day rallies in the capital in recent weeks demanding their release. Their arch-rivals -- "Yellow Shirt" nationalist activists who claim allegiance to the throne -- have been rallying near Government House recently in protest at Abhisit's handling of a deadly border dispute with Cambodia. The Cabinet recently agreed to invoke the Internal Security Act in Bangkok to cope with the renewed political rallies. Around 4,500 police officers were deployed in the city to maintain law and order, said national police spokesman Major General Prawut Thavornsiri.
UN calls for ceasefire in border dispute
Friday 18 February 2011, 03:36AM
The UN Security Council this week called for a "permanent ceasefire" between Thailand and Cambodia after a border dispute erupted into deadly clashes last week around a Hindu temple. Council president Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti of Brazil made the call after a closed door session with the foreign ministers of Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia, which has attempted to mediate the conflict. “Members of the Security Council urge the parties to establish a permanent ceasefire and to implement it fully,” she said. Viotti said council members expressed “great concern” over the clashes and “called on the two sides to display maximum restraint and avoid any action that may aggravate the situation”. Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong had gone into the meeting seeking a “permanent ceasefire” while Thailand, represented by Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, had insisted that the neighbours settle the dispute among themselves. The two Southeast Asian neighbours blame each other for the crisis, which left at least 10 dead, including seven Cambodians, in clashes with heavy weapons last week. They are fighting over a border area that surrounds the Preah Vihear temple, an 11th century cliff-top ruin that belongs to Cambodia but whose designation as a World Heritage site touched off the ire of Thai nationalists. While Cambodia won support for a permanent ceasefire, the council did not endorse its request to deploy UN peacekeepers into the contested area. The Cambodian foreign minister accused Thailand of using internationally outlawed bombs and munitions in the conflict. “We deny all of that and we did not shoot first. It was a response,” Kasit responded. The Thai minister said there was no need for UN peacekeepers, and said that option had not been discussed in the Security Council session. Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva renewed his call for Cambodia to resume bilateral dialogue on the issue in the wake of the UN meeting. Kasit said he had not met one-on-one with his Cambodian counterpart in New York, but that there would be an opportunity to do so during a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers in Jakarta on February 22. Thailand has laid the blame for the crisis on UNESCO's decision to declare the temple ruins a World Heritage site even though the land around it is disputed. The World Court ruled in 1962 that the temple belonged to Cambodia, but both countries claim ownership of a 1.8-square-mile (4.6-square-kilometre) surrounding area. “The war was not caused by the listing of the temple, but by Thailand's invasion of Cambodian territory,” said Cambodian spokesman Koy Kuong. “They want not only the territory, but also the temple.” Spectacularly situated atop a 1,722-foot (525-metre) cliff, the temple is considered the finest example of ancient Khmer architecture outside of Cambodia's Angkor Wat. Cambodia said a week ago that a wing of the temple had collapsed due to Thai artillery shelling. – AFP