Thai PM Prayuth Chan-o-cha gestures in a traditional greeting as his arrives at a weekly cabinet meeting at Bangkok's Government House on Saturday. -Reuters
Thai police said on Sunday they had uncovered a plot to assassinate the country's prime minister after seizing a weapons cache belonging to a fugitive anti-junta activist. It is the latest discovery of a weapons stockpile belonging to a member of the red shirt movement, a political group loyal to exiled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
But red shirt leader Wuthipong Kochath-amakun denied the allegation, saying the raid on his house was a government set-up. Police on Saturday found four M-16 rifles, one M79 grenade launcher, and 13 guns, plus 5,000 rounds of ammunition, three red shirt banners and other material deemed to violate the lese majeste law in Wuthipong's house in Pathum Thani.
Police also arrested nine men in connection with the arms seizure, saying they had clear evidence the suspects and their extended network were aiming to cause unrest, reported Reuters.
"We found a rifle with a scope. We guarantee that this is not to shoot at birds but was going to be used to assassinate the leader of the country," National Police Chief Jakthip Chaijinda told reporters on Sunday, referring to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
Prayut, then the army chief, overthrew the government of Thaksin's sister Yingluck in the 2014 coup. His junta has discovered dozens of weapon caches belonging to groups they said were loyal to the Shinawatra clan. The junta said the stockpiles showed there were groups trying to create instability and justified their seizure of power.
Police chief Jakthip said the suspects arrested also had plans to assassinate deputy prime minister Prawit Wongsuwan, reported The Nation newspaper. Jakthip presented no other evidence of an assassination plot, but said Wuthipong and his network had always opposed the junta and the group had predicted on social media that the prime minister would be killed.
Police said the group was planning an ambush if officials had continued their operations against a influential nearby Buddhist temple, which is seen as having close ties to Thaksin.