Possible Thai impeachment

BANGKOK: Thailand's upper house is considering impeachment proceedings against government ministers if they find proof of a cover-up over the bird flu outbreak that has killed two here, an official said yesterday. 

Kraisak Choonhavan, chairman of the senate's foreign affairs committee and a fiery critic of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's government, said an investigation was under way into the handling of the crisis. 

“There's been a meeting of seven committee chairmen and they're planning to set up an ad hoc committee to investigate how real is the cover-up alleged by practically all the newspapers,” he said.  

“If it's proved to be a cover-up, then there's reason to launch legal procedures for impeachment,” he said, without specifying which ministers could be targeted. 

“It should not take very long (to decide) because the facts are coming in quite readily now.” 

Thaksin is under fire from farmers, opposition MPs and victims' families for allegedly refusing to admit that the government was aware of the lethal H5N1 strain of avian influenza as early as November. 

The committee will examine whether Thaksin “knew about all this or covered it up himself by publicly eating chicken”, Kraisak said, referring to a lunch that Thaksin and his cabinet sat down to just three days before the virus was announced here last Friday. 

Thaksin has already conceded that the government suspected the virus emerged weeks ago but did not want to provoke panic by making its fears public. 

Senator Nirand Pitakwatchara told the Bangkok Post yesterday that the government had sacrificed people's lives in a bid to protect its image and the economy. 

“Politicians should realise that people's lives are more important than a good political and economic image,” he was quoted as saying. 

Under Thailand's 1997 Constitution, impeachment proceedings against people in public office accused of malfeasance can be launched by a resolution supported by one quarter of Thailand's 200 senators. 

Thailand is one of several Asian governments accused of deliberately covering up outbreaks of bird flu, aggravating a regional health crisis which experts warn could yet become a global influenza timebomb. – AFP  

Elsewhere in Asia:Bird flu crisis hits Japanese food industry hard Fighting cocks face cull Chicken sales drop in Singapore markets Australia destroys Asian bird products Herculean task to clean up Asia’s family farms Thais told to stop feeding sparrows and pigeons Two more deaths in Vietnam ‘Epidemic may have started in southern China’ 

On The Local Front:Sarawak bans chicken import Notify dept of unusual death rates, farmers told Don’t import chickens with bird flu, farmers told Action plan to fight bird flu scourge 

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