Prominent Thai Red Shirt arrested over 'royal insult'

BANGKOK, April 30, 2011 (AFP) - A prominent Thai anti-government activist was arrested Saturday on allegations of insulting the revered monarchy, authorities said, just days after 18 other "Red Shirts" faced similar claims.

Somyot Prueaksakasemsuk, the head of a Red Shirt affiliate group who runs a tour company in addition to his political activities, was arrested at Sa Koew checkpoint as he was about to cross to neighbouring Cambodia.

"We checked his passport and found on our computer that he was wanted for lese majeste," said immigration police at the checkpoint.

Lese majeste -- insulting the monarchy -- is a serious offence in Thailand punishable by up to 15 years in jail.

Somyot was not aware of the arrest warrant, which was issued on April 12, he told AFP while being escorted by police to Bangkok.

He said the arrest could be linked to his involvement with two fortnightly magazines, including one that supports fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

"I guess that it related to my work as editor of Voice of Thaksin and Red Power," he said, adding that he had been trying to cross the border to take a group of 30 tourists to visit Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Thailand, which is preparing for elections expected to be called next week, remains deeply divided following its worst civil violence in decades in April and May 2010, which left more than 90 people dead, most of them civilians.

The Reds view Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's government as an unelected elite because it came to power in a 2008 parliamentary vote with military backing, after a court ruling threw out the previous administration.

Somyot's arrest comes a little over a week after Thai authorities summoned 18 leaders of the Red Shirt movement to face charges of sedition and lese majeste.

The accused include acting chairwoman Thida Thavornseth as well as Red Shirt lawmaker Jatuporn Prompan and other key figures.

Those charges stem from speeches made at a Red Shirt rally held on April 10 that drew tens of thousands of people, to mark the first anniversary of deadly clashes between the movement's supporters and armed troops in central Bangkok.

The leaders were set to report to the authorities to answer the allegations in early May, but the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) has since said the meeting is postponed indefinitely while it gathers more evidence.

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