Thai police search for more weapons amid claims of plot to kill PM
Police are searching for more weapons believed to be part of a plot to assassinate Thai prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, after guns and thousands of bullets allegedly belonging to an anti-establishment leader were seized.
Police found more than a dozen guns, around 6,000 rounds, knives, drugs, grenades and other material over the weekend which they said belonged to Wuthipong Kochathamakun.
He was involved in the violent anti-government protests in 2010 which paralysed Bangkok for three months and killed around 90 civilians and six soldiers.
Krisana Pattanacharoen, a deputy police spokesman, said police officers are halfway through searching more than 2,000 shipping containers at noon where they believe more weapons are being kept.
In the seizure on Saturday, police also discovered red fabric banners with Wuthipong's nickname printed on them.
Wuthipong, better known as Ko Tee, denied having any knowledge of the weapons stash in an interview on the YouTube channel Jom Voice, and claimed the seizures were a setup by Thai authorities.
He is currently seeking political asylum in neighbouring Laos since Thailand's military toppled the elected government he supports in a coup in 2014.
"Looking at this incident, I can tell you now - it is a set-up that is not well concealed," Wuthipong said.
He also said that his friends and colleagues have been searched "hundreds of times" by authorities, making it impossible for any of them to hoard such a large amount of firearms.
Police said the weapons were part of a plot to assassinate leaders of Thailand's military government, including Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and his defence minister Prawit Wongsuwan.
Nine men were arrested over the weekend in connection with the seizures. Wuthipong said he knew only one of them, but police said all nine were connected to him.
"It doesn't really matter whether they confess or not because there is physical evidence in the firearms meant for terrorism," deputy national police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul told reporters.
Police also said the alleged plotters had been preparing to launch violence against police in connection with their siege of the headquarters of a Buddhist sect whose chief they were seeking to arrest on charges of accepting embezzled money.
The Dhammakaya temple is considered sympathetic to the Red Shirt movement that led the 2010 protests, and some of the sect's sympathisers believe that Phra Dhammajayo, who heads the sect, is being prosecuted for political reasons.
Police recently ended a three-week siege of the temple north of Bangkok without finding Dhammajayo, but said they will continue to seek his arrest.