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Kriangsak Chomanan, at 87; general aided Thai democracy

BANGKOK -- Kriangsak Chomanan, an army general who became prime minister in 1977 through a series of coups before helping steer Thailand to democracy, died yesterday of a blood infection and kidney failure. He was 87.

 

Mr. Kriangsak had been paralyzed since suffering a stroke 15 years ago.

Mr. Kriangsak came to power in an era when the military dominated Thai politics.

A native of the Mahachai district near Bangkok, Mr. Kriangsak began his military career in 1940 as a platoon leader in a brief war against the French-held colonies of Indochina. In 1973 he became a full general, a year later the army chief of staff, and in 1976 supreme commander of the military.

He was part of a military faction that took power after right-wing political power-brokers provoked mobs to lynch left-wing pro-democracy student protesters at Bangkok's Thammasat University on Oct. 6, 1976.

The junta appointed a civilian prime minister, former Supreme Court judge Thanin Kraivixien, but his ultraconservative policies exacerbated the rifts in Thai society and raised concern about human rights among Thailand's allies, especially the United States.

With broad military support, another coup was staged in October 1977 and Mr. Kriangsak was appointed prime minister, Thailand's 15th since it became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

Mr. Kriangsak sought to temper Thanin's harsh, polarizing measures, which had prompted young Thai intellectuals fleeing repression to join the communist insurgency.

In September 1978, he issued an amnesty for the "Bangkok 18" left-wing students and labor activists jailed in connection with the 1976 crackdown. He also initiated an amnesty program for former members of the Communist Party of Thailand, a reconciliation policy that eventually helped quash its insurgency.

As he adapted to his civilian post, Mr. Kriangsak was often photographed with his trademark pipe, and, in evening hours, a snifter of brandy.

Mr. Kriangsak's second major challenge came when Vietnam invaded neighbor Cambodia in December 1978 to oust the ultra-leftist Khmer Rouge.

With support from China and the United States, his government supported Cambodian anti-Vietnamese resistance groups, which would fight for another decade until Hanoi's troops departed.

Mr. Kriangsak's government promulgated a constitution in 1978 that established a timetable for the restoration of parliamentary democracy, beginning with a 1979 election.

He resigned in 1980 after losing the support of an influential faction of independent-minded army officers known as the Young Turks.

A year later, Mr. Kriangsak staged a minor comeback, winning a seat in parliament at the helm of his own National Democracy Party.

His reputation suffered when he was caught with other retired military officers at the headquarters of the plotters of a failed coup in 1985. He and other retired generals went on trial in 1987, but all benefited from a general amnesty in 1988 before any verdict was reached.

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