Thaksin opponent forced to close his newspaper

An English-language newspaper owned by a high-profile critic of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is to stop publication at the end of this month, after what its owner described as repeated government harassment.

Thai Day, which is distributed as an insert in the International Herald Tribune, was launched in June last year. But advertising revenue has been slow to pick up, particularly after the newspaper became strongly identified with the anti-Thaksin protest movement.

Owner Sondhi Limthongkul said the newspaper would continue online after August 31 and may resume publication in future. He said the majority of its 20 or more employees would keep their jobs, if they decided to stay on.

Staff at the paper were warned weeks earlier that it may close due to cashflow problems, and there has already been a rush for the exits.

Mr Sondhi said the decision to pull the plug was not only due to financial reasons, but also reflected the sensitivities of the International Herald Tribune, which is owned by The New York Times.

'For the best interests of all parties, we decided to suspend the publication temporarily and wait and see what happens,' he said. 'The situation between me and the government is getting more and more acute. I don't know what they will do next.'

Mr Sondhi said he had lost advertising from Thai Day and other publications after pressure from Mr Thaksin and his allies. He alleged that Thai banks had been told to cancel his overdraft. 'We're being harassed by the Thai government,' he said. 'They're threatening a tax investigation.'

A publisher with a self-promoting flair, Mr Sondhi rose to fame as the organiser of a series of huge street protests in Bangkok against Mr Thaksin, who is battling for his political future after an annulled election held in April. Another is due to be run in October.

Mr Sondhi and Mr Thaksin were partners in the early 1990s, and Mr Sondhi was a supporter of Mr Thaksin during his first term. Last year he reversed course and denounced him as a corrupt leader who had betrayed his country.

Dozens of court cases are pending against the organisers of the anti-Thaksin rallies, which have been dormant since April.

Mr Sondhi is a defendant in a 1 billion baht (HK$207 million) libel suit brought by Mr Thaksin over allegations that his political party was anti-monarchist. Mr Sondhi has also been accused of lese-majesty over comments made during the anti-Thaksin protests.