Thai lawmakers blame PM for mall fire

The mall was set ablaze after an Army crackdown on anti-government rally.

Bangkok: Opposition lawmakers in Thailand have blamed Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva for last year`s huge fire at a major Bangkok shopping mall, during a no-confidence debate against his government.

The CentralWorld complex was one of dozens of buildings set ablaze across the capital after an Army crackdown on an anti-government rally, which saw a series of fatal street clashes between troops and protesters in April and May.

The government blamed angry militants from the "Red Shirt" protest movement for the arson attack, but opponents say guilt lies with the authorities.

"You`re to blame for Bangkok`s fire," said Vorawat Auapinyakul, an MP from the opposition Puea Thai party, in a parliamentary debate that went on until 2am local time Friday.

"I`m not saying you burnt it by yourself but you allowed someone, a man dressed like soldier, to burn it," he said, also accusing Abhisit of ordering firefighters not to enter the mall and put out the fire.

Abhisit and his deputy Suthep Thaugsuban -- both on the list of ruling coalition ministers named in the motion filed by Puea Thai legislators -- denied the charge.

"I can confirm that the Army didn`t torch CentralWorld and more than 400 staff members and CentralWorld executives are ready to confirm that," Suthep said.

"The government was not neglectful and we all did what we could to put the fire out."

More than 90 people died in last year`s clashes -- Thailand`s worst political violence in decades.

The opposition, which also accuses Abhisit of human rights abuses during the crackdown, is seen as having little chance of winning the no-confidence vote expected on Saturday because it lacks a majority in the lower house.

But it is seeking to use the parliamentary tussle to inflict political damage on the administration ahead of elections expected by early July.

Also on Saturday the Reds, who accuse the government of being elitist and undemocratic, are planning the next in a series of large street rallies that have attracted tens of thousands to the capital.

The mainly rural, working class protesters are broadly loyal to fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and lives overseas to avoid a jail sentence for corruption imposed in absentia.

Bureau Report

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