Thai PM Defiant Amid Anger over Deaths



BO THONG, Thailand (AP) - Thailand's prime minister was defiant in the face
of mounting anger at home and from his country's Asian neighbors and the
United States over the deaths of 78 Muslims while in army detention after a
riot, insisting Wednesday that the military used ''the soft approach.''

Grieving relatives of the dead crowded outside an army base in southern
Thailand, as outraged Islamic leaders warned the deaths could worsen
sectarian violence in the Muslim-dominated south of predominantly Buddhist
Thailand.

The victims suffocated or were crushed when hundreds of Muslim protesters
were crammed into army trucks for hours. The deaths, during the Islamic
holy month of Ramadan, threatened to increase Muslim complaints that they
are unfairly treated by the government. The resentment has fueled a revival
of a long-simmering insurgency in the south in which more than 400 people
have been killed this year.

In a stormy appearance before the Thai Senate, Prime Minister Thaksin
Shinawatra expressed his regrets for the deaths but staunchly defended the
military's actions in Monday's riot in southern Narathiwat province.

Thaksin sought to partly blame the deaths on the detainees' weakness from
dawn-to-dusk fasting during Ramadan, saying they died of dehydration or
suffocation.

The leader acknowledged ''there were some mistakes,'' including that
authorities lacked enough trucks to properly transport the nearly 1,300
people arrested in the unrest because it was a public holiday.

Gen. Sirichai Thunyasiri, commander of a regional task force on security,
said detainees spent more than six hours in them before arriving at an army
camp in a neighboring province..

 


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