Thai govt ups ante in publicity battle with protesters

BANGKOK - The embattled ruling coalition countered anti-government protesters Friday by setting up a "war room" to spread information from its side, as media outlets become increasingly dominated by news of the street rallies.

The "war room" will monitor and assess the latest developments in the protests, said government spokesman Teerat Ratanasevi.

A media centre has also been set up at Government House to give updates in Thai and English three to four times a day.

Both the 'war room' and the media centre became operational Friday, he said, adding that they were separate from the police Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order, which is in charge of administering the Internal Security Act during the current turbulence.

Teerat said the frequency and number of channels for the dissemination of information would be increased.

The media centre will explain the latest situation to the public, he said. In addition to the government spokesman's team, there will be personnel from agencies such as the Foreign Affairs Ministry, and security agencies.

"Certain Cabinet members or even the prime minister may also be present if there is an urgent issue," he added.

Defence Ministry permanent secretary General Nipat Thonglek joined the war room's first press conference at Government House Friday. He said the military disagreed with the protesters' occupation and sieges at many government offices.

The government and the armed forces want to see talks between both sides, following almost a month of street protests, he stressed.

A number of other senior government officials were also present at the press conference.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra would not dissolve the House, according to a source from the ruling Pheu Thai Party.

The source said party leaders had agreed there would be an immediate political deadlock if she were to dissolve Parliament soon.

They fear three factors that would affect Pheu Thai in the event of an early dissolution: members of the new Election Commission have not yet been endorsed by His Majesty the King; the Democrat Party may boycott a general election, as it did in early 2006; and Pheu Thai's popularity has fallen due to its backing of the controversial amnesty bill.

"We have rejected several parties' demands for a House dissolution. The party's urgent strategy is to create fear among the public that the anti-government protests are violating the law," the source said.

"We are focused on communicating with the people to attack [former Democrat MP] Suthep Thaugsuban's group heavily via social media. We will post photos and audio of him encouraging protesters to commit illegal acts. We hope it can block some people from joining the rallies," the source added.

Pheu Thai Party issued a statement in support of the prime minister Friday and the idea of talks to resolve the political crisis peacefully. It thanked the United Nations and countries that had supported the proposal for talks.

However, the party insisted it could not accept the ruling of the Constitutional Court that the charter amendment pushed by the majority of parliamentarians to amend the Senate's election rules was unconstitutional.

The party called on protesters to leave government agencies, and said their demand to set up a "People's Council" to lead the country would not be possible under the current Constitution.

Pheu Thai also said the Democrats, which has key members currently leading the anti-government protests, had acted illegally.