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  • Prayut orders probe into army info-ops

    Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Thursday said he had ordered the Defence Ministry to look into allegations made by international media that the military had for political purposes been using social media to covertly influence and exacerbate unrest in the South.

    He was responding to a news report by Reuters on Wednesday that said Facebook Inc has taken down 185 accounts and groups engaged in an information-influencing operation (IO) run by the military.

    The company said the accounts were linked to the military and targeted audiences in the southern provinces, where conflict has flared on and off for decades as insurgent groups continue a guerrilla war to demand independence, according to Reuters.

    It is unclear what the closure of the accounts and groups is likely to entail for the situation in the South.

    It also noted that it was the first time Facebook had removed Thai accounts with ties to the government.

    "We found clear links between this operation and the military's Internal Security Operations Command. We can see that all of these accounts and groups are tied together as part of this operation," Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of Cybersecurity Policy, told Reuters.

    The network, mainly active in 2020, used both fake accounts and authentic ones to manage groups and pages, including overt military pages and those that did not disclose their affiliations with the military, Mr Gleicher said.

    Gen Prayut said the Defence Ministry will have to find out more details and explain the matter to the public to clear up doubts over its information operations.

    Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) spokesman Maj Gen Thanathip Sawangsaeng, meanwhile, said Isoc wasn't aware of Facebook's action as reported.

    It understood that those social media accounts removed have nothing to do with Isoc's Facebook account, which is still functioning.

    More importantly, he said, Isoc doesn't have any policies pertaining to what the Reuters report accused the Thai military of doing.

    Isoc, he said, is responsible for coordinating work needed to help people in areas affected by the southern unrest, he said.

    The use of social media by Isoc was only for the timely dissemination of useful information and news to its target audiences and for listening to the public to improve its work to resolve the problems they are facing, he said.

    In another development, Sarinee Achavanuntakul, a writer, academic and social critic, Winyu Wongsurawat, a TV show host and Yingcheep Atchanont, manager of the Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw) group along with a lawyer, Sanya Iadchongdi, petitioned the Administrative Court against the army and army chief Gen Narongphan Jitkaewtae.

    They asked the court to issue an injunction against the army to stop its IOs which they believe to be unlawful, delete from the army's database people it had allegedly blacklisted and apologise to the public for past IOs.

    According to broadcaster Yingcheep, an investigation by Facebook had found that the armed forces were using IOs to attack the government's political opponents who included journalists, activists and politicians, as well as academics.

    He himself was one of the people who have become a target of such IOs.

    Previously, former army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong mentioned on Sept 11 last year that he supported the armed forces setting up a cyber unit to cope with what he described as "the online world situation".

    Gen Apirat at that time said he gave guidelines on the military cyber unit and supported military personnel with online and social media skills working for the new unit.:

    Keep your friends close and your enemies closer


    • 'No outsiders' in the upcoming cabinet reshuffle

      Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Thursday insisted that no outsiders will be brought in during the upcoming cabinet reshuffle.

      A reshuffle is imminent after Nataphol Teepsuwan, former education minister; Buddhipongse Punnakanta, former digital economy and society (DES) minister; and Thaworn Senneam, former deputy transport minister, were removed from their positions after they were convicted for their leading roles in 2014 People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) demonstrations.

      Gen Prayut on Thursday revealed progress in the reshuffle, saying he has asked leaders of the government coalition parties to nominate candidates for the ministerial posts by the end of this month.

      A list of candidates is expected to be drafted before Gen Prayut requests an audience with His Majesty the King for new ministers to be sworn in at a ceremony.

      "Stop speculating who will get which cabinet post," Gen Prayut said. "It is up to party leaders to nominate, and I will choose."

      "There should be no problem because this will be a minor reshuffle," he said.

      When asked by reporters if outsiders would be brought into the cabinet, the prime minister said the issue is about the quotas held by coalition parties. "No outsiders. Period," the PM said.

      Mr Buddhipongse and Mr Nataphol are members of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), while Mr Thaworn is from the Democrat Party. The trio was among 26 people convicted by the Criminal Court over their roles in the PDRC protests which culminated in the May 2014 coup that ousted the Yingluck Shinawatra administration.

      Culture Minister Itthiphol Kunplome, who is tipped to succeed Mr Buddhipongse, said the selection of ministers should be left to Gen Prayut and Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, deputy prime minister and leader of PPRP.

      Mr Itthiphol, who also serves as acting DES minister, said he was ready to work in any role for the sake of the country. He said workflow won't be disrupted at the DES ministry should he be chosen for the job and have to move.

      A PPRP source said many party members were surprised to hear reports that Trinuch Thienthong, the PPRP MP for Sa Kaeo, may be tipped to take the culture portfolio during the reshuffle. The source said this could be a rumour because she is rarely seen at PPRP events and a candidate should be devoted to the party's work.:

      Keep your friends close and your enemies closer


      • Thai PM to be inoculated using the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine this week

        Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is scheduled to be given his first shot of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, tentatively on Thursday, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said today (Monday).

        He said the vaccine was delivered to the Disease Control Department at about 4pm today and it will take 2-3 days for it to be examined and approved before it is to be used.

        The vaccine is suitable for people over 60, said Anutin, adding that the prime minister will be the first to be inoculated with it and, if the prime minister agrees, the vaccination can take place on Thursday at the Bamrasnaradura Infectious Disease Institute.

        The health minister reiterated that the Public Health Ministry has no objection to the private sector procuring vaccines for their own use, which will ease some of the load on the government, but they must comply strictly with the set safety regulations.

        Meanwhile, Disease Control Department Director-General Opas Karnkawinpong clarified that any side effects, post inoculation, are divided into two types, mild effects, such as fever, itchiness or pain at the injection site, and severe side effects, such as sudden heart failure or passing out, which require emergency treatment, adding that, so far, there has only been a 3% incidence of mild side effects among those vaccinated.:

        Keep your friends close and your enemies closer


        • Opposition targets PM and six ministers for probes by NACC and Constitutional Court

          The opposition will ask Thailand’s National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) and the Constitutional Court to investigate the conduct of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-cha and six cabinet ministers, in the aftermath of the recent censure debate.

          Pheu Thai Party Secretary-General Prasert Chanthornruangthong told the media today (Monday) that the opposition’s legal team has been drafting petitions to be submitted to the NACC and the court, seeking an investigation into the seven censured ministers, including the prime minister.

          He said that petitions against the prime minister and Jurin Laksanavisit, a deputy prime minister and commerce minister, will be ready for submission to the NACC by Wednesday.

          The other five ministers targeted are Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda, Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob, former education minister Nataphol Teepsuwan and Deputy Interior Minister Niphon Boonyamanee.:

          Keep your friends close and your enemies closer


          • Pheu Thai asks NACC to probe PM and commerce minister over medical glove deal

            Thailand’s opposition Pheu Thai party petitioned the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) this morning (Wednesday), accusing Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, in his capacity as chairman of the State Enterprise Policy Committee, Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanavisit, and a few senior officials of the state-run Public Warehouse Organization (PWO), of corruption in the procurement of 112 billion baht worth of medical gloves.

            The party alleges that the controversial procurement deal, between the PWO and a private supplier, had caused damage to the state, estimated at about 2.4 billion baht.

            Besides the petition letter, the party also submitted 47 items of evidence to the NACC, including three hours of video footage featuring a meeting of senior PWO officials, during which the PWO chairman, Suchart Detchaksema, allegedly implicated the prime minister and the commerce minister of involvement in the deal.

            Pheu Thai secretary-general Prasert Chanthornruangthong said he expects the NACC to investigate the deal and the role of the people involved in it and, if it is proved that the accusations have grounds, the case will be forwarded to the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders for consideration.

            The opposition party also plans to petition the NACC to investigate former Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan, while the Thai Civilize Party has threatened to ask the NACC to probe the conduct of Transport Minister Saksayam Chidchob.:

            Keep your friends close and your enemies closer


            • PM sprays alcohol at reporters

              Thailand’s prime minister became frustrated after being repeatedly questioned about a possible cabinet reshuffle, and responded by spraying isopropyl alcohol at some of the press corps.

              Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha sprayed the alcohol at reporters sitting in the front row at a weekly news conference on Tuesday.

              The act was in response to questions about a possible cabinet reshuffle, to which he responded “isn’t there anything else to ask?” A furious prime minister then stepped down from the podium and sprayed the alcohol at reporters before leaving the room.

              The action sparked criticism on social media, many discussingthe dangers of spraying isopropyl alcohol from a very short distance, which may cause eye and skin irritation or an allergic reaction.

              The incident also gained attention from international media, such as Channel News Asia, Reuters, The Guardian and Sky News. Most of them reporting that this is not the first time that the Thai prime minister has lashed out at reporters.:

              Keep your friends close and your enemies closer


              • PM sorry for his spray 'joke'

                Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Friday apologised for spraying reporters with hand sanitiser at a weekly news conference on Tuesday.

                He said he didn't mean to harm or disrespect them as they sometimes joked with each other.

                "Who spread [the pictures]? I was joking with you. Therefore, from now on, we won't joke with each other. That's it," he said.

                After answering several questions, Gen Prayut was asked about a possible cabinet reshuffle.

                He told the reporters to mind their own business, before grabbing a bottle of liquid alcohol and dousing the front row of reporters.

                The PM was criticised by Thai and foreign media, many saying he had been disrespectful, even insulting, towards the reporters, although some journalists at Government House said they realised it was only meant as a joke.:

                Keep your friends close and your enemies closer


                  • Thai PM orders independent panel to resolve Ban Bangkloi land conflict

                  Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has set up a 28-member independent committee to resolve the long-standing land conflict, between the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and a group of indigenous Karen villagers of Ban Bangkloi in the Kaeng Krachan national park in Phetchaburi province.

                  The panel, which will comprise representatives from the state, civic society, such as P-move and the Ban Bangkloi community, will be given 30 days to work out a solution.

                  Natural Resources and Environment Permanent Secretary Jatuporn Burutpat said today that the prime minister has also instructed the police to suspend legal action, against the alleged land encroachers among the Karen villagers, until the panel develops a solution to the problem.

                  Jatupat said that he took an inspection trip to Ban Bangkloi over the weekend, to visit the villagers, and found that several of them still lack necessities for farming, such as shortages of water and infertile land.

                  In the initial stage, he said that the Ground Water Resources Department has sunk a water well, to provide water for the Karen villagers, and the Land Development Department will send experts to develop their land, so it is suitable for farming.

                  Some of the landless Bangkloi villagers, who have been evicted from Jai Paendin land in Kaeng Krachan national park, have been camping in front of Government House to demand land on which to make a living. They claim that the land from which they were evicted is their ancestral land.

                  Lately, “Through the Sky” protesters, who are affiliated with the Ratsadon group, and representatives of the Kao Klai party were spotted among the Karen protesters in front of Government House, reportedly to offer help to the Karens, prompting concern among government officials that the Karen villagers may side with the anti-government protesters.:

                  in other news.......
                  • Irate woman attempts to evict PM from Govt House

                  An irate woman attempted to storm into Government House on Tuesday, saying she wanted to chase out the prime minister for worsening Thais’ quality of life.

                  The woman arrived by taxi ahead of the Cabinet’s weekly meeting.

                  She tried to gain entry to Government House but was halted by police officers guarding the facility.

                  The woman, named as Pawanrat Boonkij, remonstrated with officials, complaining that people were suffering because of the actions of PM Prayut Chan-o-cha. She said the prime minister had refused to listen to the public.

                  It took police around an hour to calm her down.

                  She was later taken to Dusit police station before being released.:
                  Keep your friends close and your enemies closer


                  • Villagers can't return to national park – PM

                    Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Tuesday insisted Karen villagers would not be allowed to return to live in Phetchaburi's Kaeng Krachan National Park.

                    The PM made the categorical statement, despite the government having just accepted all of the villagers' demands for consideration, upon which the villagers on Tuesday agreed to leave their protest site outside Government House.

                    All their demands had been accepted for consideration, said Gen Prayut, and action would be taken to solve their problems.

                    But he added: "No one will ever be allowed to return to live in Bang Kloi-Jai Paen Din village. For those villagers who do not have any farmland, they will be provided with some."

                    Gen Prayut on Tuesday ordered that a fact-finding committee be formed to study the problem and provide resolutions. The committee was one of the requests of the "Save Bang Kloi" group.

                    The group represents Karen villagers who have since early this year returned to settle in Jai Paen Din, a forest deep in the national park.

                    They say Jai Paen Din had been their ancestral land long the before Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation designated the forest as a national park in 1981 and forced them to move out a few decades later.

                    The group had camped out near Government House since the weekend and only left after being satisfied with its dialogue with the government.

                    The prime minister also ordered the formation of a second committee to resolve the shortage of farmland owned by these Karen villagers and improve their quality of life.

                    That committee is to be headed by Deputy Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister, Capt Thamanat Prompow, who will visit Jai Paen Din tomorrow.

                    Any legal cases being pressed against these Karen villagers would be halted, said one source.

                    Even as the Karen group left Bangkok on Tuesday, other people protesting about their own land problems refused to leave, the source added.

                    Jumnong Nupan, president of the People's Movement for a Just Society (P-move), said they would not leave unless the government came up with a solution to all land disputes around the country.

                    "Those communities need a promise which is as clear as that given to the Bang Kloi-Jai Paen Din Karen villagers," he said.:

                    Keep your friends close and your enemies closer


                    • PM receives ministerial nominee list

                      Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said he has received the candidate lists for ministerial posts nominated by government coalition parties, insisting he has the final say on a cabinet reshuffle.

                      Speaking at Government House on Tuesday, the prime minister said the next step would be a background check on all the candidates which would take some time.

                      All procedural requirements must be met first, Gen Prayut added.

                      "Each party has nominated its candidates, but it is up to me to decide which ministerial posts they will get. Opinions will also be sought from coalition parties because we will work together," the prime minister said.

                      Asked if new cabinet ministers will be revealed this week, Gen Prayut said: "The reshuffle will be complete after the swearing-in ceremony.''

                      The ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) is looking to fill two vacancies left by Nataphol Teepsuwan, the former education minister, and Buddhipongse Punnakanta, the former digital economy and society (DES) minister.

                      They -- along with the Democrat Party's Thaworn Senneam, a former deputy transport minister -- were removed from their posts after being convicted by the Criminal Court for their role in the 2013-2014 street protests.

                      The PPRP picks are said to have been finalised with MP for Sa Kaeo, Trinuch Thienthong, expected to succeed Mr Nataphol as education minister and list MP Chaiwut Thanakhamanusorn tipped to replace Mr Buddhipongse as DES minister.

                      Meanwhile, the Democrat Party reportedly decided to nominate Surat Thani MP, Sinit Lertkrai, as deputy commerce minister to replace the Bhumjaithai Party's Weerasak Wangsuphakijkosol who is slated to become deputy transport minister, which was previously part of the Democrats' cabinet quota.

                      The swapping of cabinet post between the two junior coalition partners is thought to be taking place because both parties want to ensure that a minister and a deputy minister from the same party work together at the same ministry in order to avoid potential conflicts.

                      Deputy Prime Minister and Democrat Party leader Jurin Laksanawisit said on Tuesday he had submitted the nomination of a ministerial candidate to the prime minister. The candidate was approved at a meeting of party executives and MPs.

                      Asked about the post swap rumour, Mr Jurin said that should be left to the prime minister to decide upon.

                      He insisted that ministers and deputy ministers from different parties can work together in the same ministry.:

                      Keep your friends close and your enemies closer


                      • Thai PM asked to rescind appointments of 2 people over allegedly shady backgrounds

                        Deputy Agriculture Minister Thammanat Prompao has sent an urgent letter to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, urging him to rescind the appointments of Amorn Meemano and Phuvit Panyasith as political officials attached to the Office of the Secretary-General of the PM’s Office.

                        The cabinet approved Amorn, Phuvit and Somchai Sarovart, as proposed by two small pro-government parties, Thai Rak Tham and Prachatham Thai, on Tuesday.

                        In the letter, Thammanat did not offer any details to support his request.

                        The appointment of Amorn, especially, has caused a big stir in stock trading circles, due to his background as the CEO and major shareholder of Crown Tech Advance public company, or AJD, which was later changed to AJ Advance Technology public company, or AJA.

                        In late 2018, Amorn and 40 other investors were accused, by Thailand’s Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), of manipulating AJA shares and were ordered to pay 1.727 billion baht in fines. The case was also investigated by the Anti-Money Laundering Office. In mid-2019, the SEC forwarded the case to the Office of the Attorney-General.

                        Peeravit Ruangluedolapak, leader of Thai Rak Tham party, and Phichet Sathirachavan, leader of the Prachatham Thai party, told the media today that they jointly nominated the two men without any intention to embarrass the prime minister or the Government.

                        Peeravit insisted that he, and the party executives of the two small parties, had checked the criminal backgrounds of the two nominees and did not find that they had committed any criminal offences.

                        He added that the two used to be political observers and advisors to several ministers in previous governments and, therefore, their experience and expertise would be useful to the government.:

                        Keep your friends close and your enemies closer


                        • Prayut relaxed over charter change

                          Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha insists he is not concerned about the constitution being amended and says if people think he merely wants to extend his hold on power, the solution is simple: don't vote for him next time.

                          The PM's comments followed a fresh attempt to amend the constitution section by section after the Constitutional Court ruled that a national referendum must first be held to determine if the public wants an entirely new charter.

                          Several political parties say they are now prepared to move ahead with charter changes aimed at curbing the power of the military-appointed Senate.

                          Gen Prayut said he did not mind if a whole new charter was drawn up or some sections of it revised.

                          "If people are concerned that I will prolong my stay in power, they are free to proceed with charter amendments. They can choose between voting or not voting for me. I'm fine with it," he said.

                          Parliament president Chuan Leekpai said on Monday an extraordinary session was likely to convene on April 7-8 to scrutinise and vote on the proposed national referendum bill.

                          He said a discussion on the proposed special session had been held with representatives from the government, the opposition and the Senate and it was agreed that the two-day session can proceed next month.

                          Mr Chuan shrugged off a petition submitted to the anti-graft agency against MPs and senators who voted in favour of the charter amendment bill, saying those facing complaints should be prepared to defend themselves.

                          He also stressed that a motion calling the joint sitting of MPs and senators to proceed with a vote was legitimate.

                          The petition, which was lodged by firebrand activist Srisuwan Janya on Monday with the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), sought an inquiry against 206 MPs and two senators who voted to pass the bill during its third and final reading last Wednesday.

                          Mr Srisuwan called on the NACC to investigate their conduct and forward the case to the Supreme Court for further action if it found they committed an offence.

                          The activist had earlier threatened to ask the NACC to take action against parliamentarians who voted for the charter amendment bill.

                          Senator Wanchai Sornsiri, spokesman of a parliamentary committee vetting the national referendum bill, said the panel would meet on April 1-2 to finalise the draft.

                          The bill originally allowed only the executive branch to propose a referendum. "The bill is a time-bomb for the government, like the charter amendment," he said.:

                          Keep your friends close and your enemies closer


                          • PM denies knowledge of 'spare party'

                            Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has denied any knowledge of a "spare party" having been registered for the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) in case of a snap election.

                            He said he had no idea about a party named Ruam Thai Sang Chart having been set up as the PPRP's alternative.

                            Concerns have mounted that if the referendum draft bill, now being deliberated in parliament, fails to be passed in the third and final reading, the government, which sponsored the bill, would then have to accept responsibility.

                            In that case, the cabinet might have to resign and the House be dissolved, forcing a fresh election. It was speculated that under such a scenario, the PPRP might need another party allied to it to contest the election, which would help increase its prospects of winning many MP seats.

                            The reason the bill, currently in second-reading scrutiny stage, may not see the light of day is because the changes made so far to the legislation are feared to be unconstitutional.

                            The changes made to the referendum bill, which were put forth by the opposition, authorise parliament and general public to initiate a sign-up campaign calling for a referendum to be held. Some senators insisted the authority went beyond the limits of the constitutional framework.

                            Chusak Sirinil, a scrutiny committee member in the main opposition Pheu Thai Party's quota, defended the authority as constitutional. He explained the cabinet would decide whether to approve the call for a referendum to be organised and so the authority will be kept in check by the cabinet.

                            Meanwhile, Senator Wanchai Sornsiri said the government cannot be held responsible if the draft referendum bill is defeated in the third and final reading on the basis of it being unconstitutional.

                            The bill debated by lawmakers is designed to provide the legal groundwork for organising referendums. The Constitutional Court has determined that a referendum must be held to let people decide if they want a whole new charter. If so, another referendum will be arranged to gauge whether people agree with the contents of the draft charter after the writing of it has been completed.

                            Mr Wanchai explained that even though the government initiated the referendum bill, it no longer has any claim to it now that the draft has been admitted for debate and scrutiny by parliament.

                            The moment parliament made changes to the draft, the government bears no legal responsibility for it, he said.:

                            Keep your friends close and your enemies closer


                            • Suspect who allegedly harassed Thai PM’s twin daughters in custody

                              A 40-year old man, now in police custody, is being questioned over the alleged harassment on social media of the twin daughters of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

                              Using the Twitter name @jojoshamlet, the suspect posted a message urging people to rape the prime minister’s daughters whenever they encountered them. The post prompted the prime minister to order his lawyer, Mr. Apiwat Khanthong, to file a complaint with Nanglerng police.

                              Apiwat said that he will pursue the case to its end without compromise.

                              After receiving the complaint on Tuesday, Pol Lt-Col Athich Donnanchai, deputy superintendent of Nanglerng police, said that he issued a summons for the suspect to report to him next Monday.

                              Nonetheless, officers from the computer crime division arrested the man, whose name was not disclosed, on Wednesday night, at his residence in the Bang Phli district of Samut Prakan province, according to the administrator of the Twitter page “Street Hero Project”.:

                              Keep your friends close and your enemies closer


                              • PM vows to combat corruption on OECD forum

                                Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha made a speech for the opening ceremony of the 2021 OECD Global Anti-Corruption & Integrity Forum, held in Paris, where he addressed their success on handling the COVID-19 pandemic and their efforts in tackling corruption.

                                In a pre-recorded video address, he announced that tackling the COVID-19 pandemic requires “collective effort” from all stakeholders, which has helped Thailand in responding to the pandemic effectively. As a result, he said, Thailand has been recognised internationally for the successful management of COVID-19.

                                The prime minister also said that the government has acknowledged the importance of tackling corruption, where he mentioned the details of the collaboration between its government and the OECD.

                                General Prayut also hoped that their anti-corruption efforts could be an example for other countries to tackle the issue.:

                                Keep your friends close and your enemies closer


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