Renewed protests grip Thai capital as crisis deepens
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Protesters took to the streets of Bangkok again Monday as a campaign to oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra entered its second week. An arrest warrant has been issued for protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban on "insurrection" charges.
Protesters took to the streets of the Thai capital Bangkok again on Monday as a campaign to force the country’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from power entered its second week.
Riot police fired rounds of teargas at demonstrators as they surged around barricades surrounding Government House, which houses Yingluck’s offices.
A Thai court issued an arrest warrant for protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban on charges of "insurrection" Monday for trying to topple the government, police said in a televised statement. The charges can carry a lifetime prison term or a death sentence, although capital punishment is rarely carried out in Thailand.
The renewed protests come after a weekend of unrest in the capital, which claimed the lives of at least three people and left dozens others injured. The violence is the latest turn in a conflict pitting Bangkok’s urban middle class and royalist elite against the mostly poor, rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist former prime minister ousted in a 2006 military coup.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, who said he had met with the prime minister late on Sunday, announced that there will be no negotiations to end what is the country’s worst political crisis since 2010.
“I told Yingluck that if police put down their weapons, we will welcome them as they are also Thai,” he told supporters later. “I told Yingluck that this will be our only meeting and we will not meet again until the people win.”
The meeting, he said, was arranged by the military, a powerful institution that has publicly taken sides against Thaksin-allied governments in previous political crises but which has expressed neutrality in the current conflict. More than 90 people were killed in 2010 when troops crushed protests by Thaksin’s supporters.
There was no immediate comment from the government on the meeting, but Yingluck has called for talks to end the protests, which have been joined by the opposition Democrats – Thailand’s oldest political party.
The Democrats have not won an election in more than two decades and have lost every national vote for the past 13 years to Thaksin or his allies. Suthep, 64, was a deputy prime minister in the Democrat-led government that lost power to Yingluck in a general election in 2011.
Suthep has set a Tuesday deadline for Yingluck, 46, to step aside and repeated his call for civil servants to go on strike on Monday. “Stop working for the Thaksin regime and come out and protest,” he said.
It was unclear how many had stayed away from work. The government has urged people in Bangkok, which has a population of 10 million, to stay indoors from 10pm to 5am, and traffic appeared lighter than normal during the rush hour.
‘Tools of the regime’
“Government workers are still tools of the Thaksin regime. Today we have to take care of this so that civil servants will stop serving Thaksin. They can do this by stopping work,” Akanat Promphan, Suthep’s stepson and a spokesman for the Civil Movement for Democracy protest group, said on Monday.
Protesters went to state television stations on Sunday and got them to agree to broadcast Suthep’s speeches live.
“We did not set out to intimidate the media yesterday but we urged them to broadcast the correct news,” Akanat said.
Some of Bangkok’s shopping centres that were closed as a precaution on Sunday reopened on Monday. Several major universities announced, however, that they would be closed on Monday for safety reasons.
Three people were killed in violence over the weekend, including a student and a “red shirt” government supporter. At least 59 people were wounded during a night of violence on Saturday in an area to the east of the city where the “red shirts” were rallying in a sports stadium near a university.
Another 54 people were injured on Sunday, mostly through inhaling teargas, but there were no further deaths, according to the government’s emergency medical service.
The protesters occupied a government complex and the Finance Ministry last week. Police spokesman Piya Utayo said on Sunday that troops were being sent to retake those buildings but no move had been made by mid-morning on Monday.
Thaksin, who won over poor rural and urban voters with populist policies, was convicted in absentia of graft in 2008. He dismisses the charges as politically motivated and remains in close touch with the government from his self-imposed exile, sometimes holding meetings with Yingluck’s cabinet by webcam.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)