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Human Rights Groups Say France, Britain Should Press Thai PM to End Military Rule

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BANGKOK – Human Rights Watch and other humanitarian organizations said Monday that Britain and France should highlight deteriorating human rights in Thailand when its prime minister visits this month and they should make clear there will be no “business as usual” until he holds a fair election.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former army chief who ousted a democratically elected government in a 2014 coup, has promised to restore democracy but has pushed back the date for a vote several times, while refusing to tolerate dissent.

British Prime Minister Theresa May and President Emmanuel Macron of France should “strongly express their deep concerns about the deteriorating state of human rights,” Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

“They should make clear to General Prayuth that there will be no return to business as usual until Thailand holds free and fair elections, establishes a democratic civilian government, and improves respect for human rights,” he said.

A general election is now due in February, the government says.

Government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd defended Thailand’s record, saying authorities were very respectful of rights.

“Right now, Thailand respects human rights no less than any other country,” Sansern told Reuters.

Thailand’s Western allies criticized Prayuth’s 2014 coup, which followed a decade of political turmoil that has brought two coups and bloody street protests.

The military banned political gatherings and protests after it took power and has taken tough action against dissent.

The European Union put relations on hold after the coup but in December resumed political contact “at all levels.”

The EU is Thailand’s third-biggest trading partner after China and Japan. Thailand is the EU’s third-largest trading partner in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Prayuth will meet May in London on June 20, before he heads to France for a trip that includes a stop at Airbus in the city of Toulouse.

Prayuth and Macron are due to preside over the signing of an agreement between Thai Airways and Airbus to open an aircraft maintenance and repair hub at the civil-military U-Tapao Airport, southeast of Bangkok, Prayuth’s office said.

Thailand will also finalize the purchase of a $215 million observation satellite from Airbus, Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak told Reuters.

The satellite will have multiple uses, the government has said, including for agriculture and national security.

Meanwhile, The government and the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) have been keeping a close watch on former prime ministers Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra even though their close associates insist  that their movements have no political agenda.

The two former prime ministers, who are on a run overseas to avoid legal actions, have been getting continuous media attention in Thailand over the past few weeks.

Their pictures taken during trips to various countries posted in the social media including Instagram, have kept the two alive in the Thai political circle.

According to Thai PBS a source close to Ms Yingluck tried to explain that the two have no political agenda, adding that they are just trying to keep their family and close associates in contact through social media.

Maj Gen Piyapong Klinpan, an NCPO spokesman, said that in following up the activities of the two fugitive former prime ministers as well as some academics and former Pheu Thai MPs who have escaped legal action to stay in other countries the government and the NCPO are only performing their duty. He denied this is part of an attempt to gauge the political situation.

By Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Panarat Thepgumpanat and Panu Wongcha-um –  Reuters

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