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Daily Archives: June 1, 2008

Thai PM eases off threat to crack down on protesters


by Jutarat Tongpiam*

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej threatened yesterday to forcibly break up a weeklong anti-government protest, but eased off after a tense standoff between activists and riot police. 

About 1,200 riot police assembled in Bangkok's historic district, facing down a crowd of 6,500 protesters on a main avenue near a United Nations building.
Some activists from the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) fashioned improvised shields and batons out of plywood boards, bats and giant cistern lids.
Two years ago PAD protests against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra led to a coup that ousted him from power.
The alliance began a new protest last Sunday, drawing up to 10,000 people to rallies calling for the newly elected Samak to step down, accusing him of acting as Thaksin's puppet.
"I will not yield to your demand," Samak said in a televised speech early Saturday.
"I have prepared police and military forces. You must find another place to rally that will not affect or violate other people's rights," he said, stressing that obstructing traffic was illegal.
"Who do you want to stage a coup this time?" Samak said.
The protest group's leader, media baron Sondhi Limthongkul, vowed to defy the order.
"PAD will not abandon any of you. I will not run away from death," Sondhi told the cheering crowd.
But as night fell, Interior Minister Chalerm Yoobumrung spoke on national television, saying he would try to ease tensions.
"PAD, please feel free to rally. There will not be any crackdown. A democratically elected government will not hurt its own people," he said.
The deputy police spokesman, Major General Surapol Tuanthong, told AFP that Samak had been concerned that an outside party could stir trouble, and that the riot police were only there to provide security.
"As of now there is no plan to disperse the demonstration. The PAD can carry on their protest. The police came here to take care of security matters," Surapol said.
"The prime minister was talking about his policy, but right now there is no plan to break up the protest," Surapol added.
The military did not try to back up Samak, with Supreme Commander General Boonsrang Niumpradit warning that deploying soldiers could have "tragic" consequences.
"He will only use the military if the situation is very critical, because in most cases the result is tragic," he said.
Police said they still expected 1,000 reinforcements from nearby provinces to arrive in Bangkok by midnight. Samak himself did not comment on the developments.
Protesters, meanwhile, waved national and royal flags, singing patriotic songs and chanting anti-Samak slogans.
"This government is a puppet for Thaksin. They do everything for Thaksin, because they are his proxies," said one protester, who identified himself only as a garment maker.
"We have to fight. We can't let this government stay any longer. I will fight until we get what we want."
The protest began in opposition to Samak's drive to amend Thailand's military-backed constitution. The kingdom's royalist elite oppose the planned amendments, and the controversy had raised rumours of a new coup.
His government also came under fire over a speech made by a minister attached to the premier's office.
Critics said the speech insulted the nation's revered king by questioning the role of the palace in Thai democracy, a serious criminal offence.
The minister, Jakrapob Penkair, resigned on Friday saying he wanted to ease political tensions. Samak has also agreed to put his plan to amend the constitution to a referendum.


Tennis: Sharapova leads Russian charge at French Open

Sample Imageby Allan Kelly*

Maria Sharapova led a Russian charge into the last 16 at the French Open yesterday finally shaking off the poor form that has seen her struggle to live up to her top seeding.
The 21-year-old Russian world No.1 defeated Italy's Karin Knapp 7-6 (7/4), 6-0 with two contrasting sets.
In the first, Sharapova again struggled with her serve and consistency as Knapp came within two points of taking a one set lead.
But in the second, after breaking serve in a marthon second game, Sharapova visibly relaxed allowing her to deploy her impressive arsenal of groundstrokes.
Sharapova needed three sets to win in each of her two previous rounds and in all three games completed so far she has had to play for over two hours.
She knows though that she will have to add more consistency to her game before going up against compatriot Dinara Safina with a quarter-final place at stake. The pair have met five times with Sharapova winning three.
"I kind of forgot what it felt like to finish in two even though I still managed to play for two hours out there," she said.
"It was quite scratchy the first two (games) and I spent a lot more time than I would have liked on the court. But that's just the way things go."
Safina made it through to the fourth round in Paris for the third straight year with a 6-2, 7-5 win over China's last representative Zheng Jie.
Following the two of them into the last 16 was 2006 runner-up Svetlana Kuznetsova who comfortably saw off another Russian, Nadia Petrova 6-2, 6-1.
The fourth seed said that she had come into Paris in poor form but that just playing in a Grand Slam event had given her the boost she needed and she felt that she has the chance to go all the way this year.
"Definitely I think I have a chance," she said. "I think there are a few players who have a really good shot to win it and I hope one of them is me."
She next takes on rising star Victoria Azarenka of Belarus a player she has beaten on two previous occasions.
"She's tough. She can play good," Kuznetsova said. "She has nothing to lose but I believe I have more experience being out there. I think clay suits me a little better, but it's going to be a tough match."
The 18-year-old Azarenka, a former world junior champion, crushed Italian veteran Francesa Schiavone 6-1, 6-1 and she has lost only two games in her last two matches.
She lost to Kuznetsova in the fourth round of last year's US Open, but is convinced it will be different this time.
"I played her two times already. Probably won't be that scarey anymore. It will be a good match I think," she said.
Also into the last 16 was the third seed Jelena Jankovic of Serbia who defeated Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia 7-5, 6-3 in a game held over from late Friday with Jankovic a set and 4-2 ahead.
Two of the men's third round ties went to five sets.
Spanish fifth seed David Ferrer lived up to his nickname of 'The Bulldozer' to crush the brave resistance of Australia's Lleyton Hewitt 6-2, 3-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a marathon three and half hour tussle.
He will next take on unorthodox Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic, who continued his rich vein of recent form by seeing off Spanish claycourt specialist Tommy Robredo 6-3, 6-2, 6-1.
Fernando Gonzalez meanwhile battled back from two sets down to outlast Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland 5-7, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4
The Chilean, looking to rebound from a poor season so far, will face up to Robby Ginepri who became the first American to reach the last 16 at Roland Garros since Andre Agassi in 2003 by defeating Frenchman Florent Serra 6-4, 6-4, 6-4