Police chief ousted
National police chief Patcharawat Wongsuwan was demoted yesterday, apparently for failing to execute the government’s order to clear Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports.
Government spokesman Natthawut Saikua said the order to transfer Pol Gen Patcharawat to an inactive post at the Prime Minister’s Office took immediate effect.
Pol Gen Patheep Tanprasert, an inspector-general, was appointed as acting national police chief.
The abrupt transfer came less than 24 hours after Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat declared a state of emergency around the two airports and put police in charge of dispersing the anti-government protesters.
Police remained on stand-by after Pol Gen Patcharawat’s demotion.
At press time late last night, hundreds of riot police from the 1st and 2nd Regional Police Bureaus were deployed near the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protest at Suvarnabhumi airport.
The police, who were scattered around the airport, were equipped with batons and shields, while ambulances and rescue pick-up trucks run by charities were on stand-by around the airport terminal and parking buildings.
Pol Maj-Gen Piya Sontrakul, the deputy chief of Police Region 1, said negotiations between the PAD and the government were tentatively set for today.
The officer said he has already sent representatives to contact the PAD.
At Don Mueang airport, the Metropolitan Police Bureau issued a statement telling demonstrators to leave or face “appropriate and necessary measures”, which they said would be carried out to solve the situation.
A source said Pol Gen Patcharawat was removed as national police chief because of his failure to stop the PAD seizing the airports and his reluctance to use force.
The former police chief was also said to be opposed to breaking up the PAD rally outside parliament on Oct 7.
His transfer was also linked to the annual transfers in the force in which senior officers affiliated with the People Power Party were not promoted.
At yesterday’s meeting to discuss how to handle the situation at the airports, chaired by Interior Minister Kowit Wattana, Pol Gen Patcharawat appeared unwilling to become engaged, said a source close to the meeting.
Yesterday’s meeting, which took place at the Defence Ministry, was also attended by Metropolitan Police Bureau commissioner Pol Lt-Gen Suchart Muenkaew, who is in charge of operations at Don Mueang airport, and Police Region 1 commander Pol Lt-Gen Chalong Somjai, who is in charge of Suvarnabhumi airport.
Army chief Gen Anupong Paojinda was absent and assigned his deputy Jiradej Kotcharat to attend on his behalf. The Royal Thai Air Force sent its chief-of-staff, ACM Manit Sapanthupong, while navy chief Adm Khamthon Phumhiran was also present.
The air force and the navy have been assigned to help police clear the blockades. A source said the army was excluded from operations because Gen Anupong was opposed to the emergency rule and refused to send troops to break up the protests.
Gen Anupong’s absence reflected his opposition to the use of force and the growing tension between the army and the prime minister.
Mr Somchai appeared on national television again last night saying authorities would use soft measures first to force the protesters out of the airports.
He called on government officials to carry on with their tasks, but did not mention Pol Gen Patcharawat.
Before the address, he held a video conference with all permanent secretaries and heads of government agencies, ordering them to maintain order and ensure the safety of tourists.
A source in the meeting said Mr Somchai wanted police to clear Don Mueang airport first, but the raid was opposed by the air force. Police Region 1 and the navy also wanted negotiations.
The PAD remained defiant over the state of emergency and a possible crackdown, saying they would not budge.
“There is no negotiation,” PAD core leader Sondhi Limthongkul declared.
Metropolitan Police Bureau commissioner Pol Lt-Gen Suchart said police would use measures ranging from soft to harsh to disperse the PAD.
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