A Thai court on Thursday rejected a police request to order the arrest of an outspoken publisher on charges that he dragged the king's name into his public feud with Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Police in northeastern Thailand had applied to the court in Yasothon province for a warrant against publisher Sondhi Limthongkul and journalist Sarocha Phon-udomsu, claiming the two had committed lese-majeste, the crime of insulting the monarchy, by referring to the king's duties in their criticisms of Thaksin. Sondhi has accused Thaksin of usurping some of the duties of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
The court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to support the charge, said police Col. Ronachai Panraka from Yasothon, who added that police would seek more evidence and witnesses.
The feud between the Sondhi and Thaksin has sparked a high-profile political drama and raised the prospect of civil disorder, mainly because of the strong feelings aroused by mention of the monarchy, an institution revered by most Thais.
Public warnings issued by some senior army officers to Sondhi have also contributed to an atmosphere of unease, because they recall the specter of past interventions in politics by the military.
At the same time, opponents of Thaksin have seized on the issue as what they say is yet another example of the prime minister's authoritarian tendencies.
In a measure of the dispute's repercussions, the head of the Stock Exchange of Thailand on Wednesday felt compelled to deny rumors that the case could lead to public disorder and a popular uprising. The market dropped 0.8 percent Wednesday on across the board selling.
Thailand's stock market in the past has proven sensitive to rumors, a situation that can be to the advantage of speculators seeking to manipulate share prices. Sondhi's attacks on Thaksin have entangled him in various legal cases, and last week Bangkok's Civil Court issued a gag order barring him and nine associates from criticizing the prime minister verbally or in writing.
Along with obtaining the injunction, Thaksin sued Sondhi and nine other parties for 1 billion baht (US$24.3 million; Ђ20.8 million) in damages for allegedly defaming him with remarks implying that he usurped some royal duties.
Any action or words considered insulting to the monarch is punishable by up to 15-years' imprisonment. But Sondhi has shown little sign of backing down and instead has continued to harangue the prime minister in public gatherings and on the Web, reports the AP. I.L.