Students force Thai PM to shift party plan

April 16, 1999

If Thai prime minister Chuan Leekpai was expecting a warm welcome from his alma mater last month, he was sorely disappointed.

Students at Bangkok's prestigious Thammasat University, with little more than a letter to the rector, made Chuan scrap plans to hold a general assembly of his Democrat Party on the campus near the royal palace.

Their protest came after the prime minister controversially approved a military honour for a former dictator, ageing Field Marshal Thanom Kittichakorn, who presided over a massacre of students and pro-democracy demonstrators 25 years ago.

Chuan, a former Thammasat law student and Thailand's longest-serving elected civilian premier, has rejected growing calls from students and pro-democracy activists for him to apologise for giving his assent.

Thanom went into a three-year exile after the slaughter, which is seen as a milestone on Thailand's rocky road to democratic rule.He has refused the honour to avoid a confrontation.

According to official records, 73 people were killed and more than 800 injured in the October 14 1973 protests against military rule. Activists say the death toll was actually much higher.

Thammasat itself was the scene of another massacre of protesting students in 1976, when Thanom returned to Thailand.

Although protests on the campus had appeared unlikely, the Democrat Party moved its meeting to a Bangkok hotel to avoid a fuss. The last-minute decision came despite the insistence of Thammasat rector Naris Chaiyasut that it would still be welcome to use the campus. "All political parties, NGOs and private-sector organisations are welcome. Thammasat is a public institution so we should treat everyone equally," he told The THES.

The students also want Chuan to step down as an honorary member of the university council.

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