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Posts tagged ‘Uprising in Thailand’

Protesters march to Thai prime minister’s compound

May 12, 2014

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s anti-government protesters left their main camp Monday to resettle near Parliament and the prime minister’s vacated office compound, where their leader pledged to set up his new office in a direct challenge to the government’s authority.

The country’s new caretaker prime minister, Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, meanwhile worked at a makeshift suburban outpost, underlining the government’s weakness. He reiterated calls for a July election and said he and his Cabinet were committed to finding a peaceful solution to the country’s political crisis.

Thailand’s grinding 6-month political crisis has deepened since last week, when the Constitutional Court removed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for nepotism in a case that many viewed as politically motivated. Nine Cabinet ministers were also dismissed.

Protesters say her removal is not enough. They want to set up an unelected “people’s council” to implement still-undefined reforms to completely remove her family’s influence from politics before any elections, which the current ruling party would likely win.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has called for a “final push” to install an unelected leader — a goal that critics call undemocratic but supporters say is necessary to carry out the reforms. On Monday, Suthep ended a monthslong occupation of Bangkok’s Lumpini Park, which protesters had converted into a litter-strewn campground. He led thousands of supporters to the Parliament, where the Senate was informally meeting to discuss the crisis and debate his controversial proposal for an appointed prime minister.

Suthep met at the Parliament with what appeared to be about half of the chamber’s 150 senators, including new Speaker Surachai Liengboonlertchai, who is seen as sympathetic to his views. Protesters were making their new main base outside the prime minister’s office compound, called Government House, though after the meeting Suthep called for them also to stay outside Parliament, which is nearby. The executive compound has been vacant for months due to the threat of takeover by protesters.

Suthep says protesters will remain outside the compound and that he will not occupy the actual prime minister’s office. But he plans to set up an office in the compound’s Santi Maitree Building traditionally used for state visits.

The military that provides security at Government House said over the weekend that Suthep would be allowed in to avoid further clashes in a crisis that has left more than 20 dead and hundreds injured since November.

Police have sought for months to charge Suthep with insurrection, terrorism and other crimes for leading the protests. Acting Prime Minister Niwattumrong defended the government’s hands-off approach as good crisis management. “We do not want violence or any problems,” he told reporters Monday.

Last week, Yingluck’s remaining Cabinet named Niwattumrong, who was deputy premier, as acting leader. Government supporters have warned that any attempt to install an unelected prime minister could spark a “civil war.”

Like Yingluck before him, he is forced to work out of the Office to the Permanent Secretary for Defense in the unfashionable suburb of Muang Thong Thani. “I don’t think we’ll have a civil war,” Niwattumrong told reporters. “It’s already (been) six months, and we can manage the country quite well.”

Both supporters and opponents are keeping large crowds of supporters in the Thai capital, which has raised concerns of clashes. Thailand’s political crisis began in 2006, when Yingluck’s brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was toppled by a military coup after being accused of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Thaksin, a former telecommunications billionaire, remains highly popular among the rural poor in Thailand’s north and northeast, and parties controlled by him have won every national election since 2001. The anti-government protesters, aligned with the opposition Democrat Party and backed by the country’s traditional elites, say they want to remove all traces of his political machine from politics.

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Thousands march in Thai capital against government

March 29, 2014

BANGKOK (AP) — Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters marched through the streets of Thailand’s capital Saturday, reviving their whistle-blowing, traffic-blocking campaign to try to force the resignation of the country’s prime minister.

The protest came after a lull in anti-government rallies and amid growing concern of violence between opponents and supporters of embattled Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. It also came a day before a key vote to elect a new Senate.

Yingluck’s opponents have tried a variety of tactics for the past four months to force her ouster. They have blocked Bangkok’s major intersections, stormed government offices and most recently transformed the city’s sprawling Lumpini Park into a messy protest headquarters overrun with tents and sleeping bags.

Saturday’s crowds marched from Lumpini Park, in the central business district, to the city’s historic quarter to press demands that the government yield power to an interim appointed council to oversee reforms before new elections. Protesters say Yingluck is a proxy for her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power.

“We march today to call for an end to the Thaksin regime, and show that the power truly belongs to the people,” said a protest leader, Thaworn Senniem. A group of several hundred protesters forced their way into the prime minister’s office compound, Government House, in a symbolic show of defiance. The compound has been largely deserted by officials since the protests started.

The march was the first major rally since Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled March 21 to nullify last month’s general election, a ruling cheered by protesters and criticized by Yingluck’s supporters as the latest sign of judicial bias against her.

“The fact that the election has been nullified means that our campaign is successful,” Thaworn said. “Now we must finish the job with reforms.” Yingluck has refused to resign and had called the Feb. 2 early elections to receive a fresh mandate. Her ruling Pheu Thai party and its predecessors have easily won every national election since 2001. It had been expected to win again in February, especially because the opposition Democrat Party boycotted the election.

Election officials say it will take at least three months for a new vote to be held, prolonging Thailand’s political paralysis. Yingluck’s supporters, known as the Red Shirts, have generally kept a low profile during the anti-government protests. However, as Yingluck’s government comes under greater threat of legal action that might force it from office, they have said they are prepared to respond with force.

On Monday, Yingluck is due to submit her defense to the National Anti-Corruption Commission for a case her supporters call politically motivated that could lead to her impeachment. If the commission decides to indict Yingluck and forward the case to the Senate for an impeachment vote, government supporters have vowed to rise up in her defense. The case accuses Yingluck of dereliction of duty over the government’s flagship rice subsidy program, which has run up huge losses.

The current Senate is pro-Thaksin, but that could change in Sunday’s election to fill 77 seats in the 150-seat Senate. The remaining seats are appointed, and a government attempt to make the Senate a fully elected body was one of the triggers for the unrest that started in November.

Yingluck’s Red Shirt supporters have vowed to stage their own mass rally next Saturday, though they have not yet said whether it will be held in the capital, which many fear could lead to clashes between the two sides. The sporadic violence over the past four months has left at least 23 people dead and hundreds hurt.

Thailand has seen political conflict since 2006, when Thaksin was ousted by a military coup. Thaksin’s supporters and opponents have since taken to the streets for extended periods in a power struggle.

Associated Press writer Jocelyn Gecker contributed to this report.

Thai protest leader places conditions on talks

February 27, 2014

BANGKOK (AP) — The leader of Thailand’s anti-government protest movement said Thursday he is willing to negotiate to end the country’s political crisis, if the prime minister is willing to talk with him live, one-to-one, on every national television station.

The offer by Suthep Thaugsuban came as increasing violence associated with his group’s months-long protest has prompted fresh calls for negotiations. The protesters say they want Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to resign to make way for an unelected interim government to institute anti-corruption reforms.

Yingluck, who is in northern Thailand, responded that her government wants negotiations, but that the protesters must stop blocking elections and other constitutional processes. Suthep’s offer was an evident ploy to offset criticism of his longstanding position that his movement would refuse negotiations, even as the government said it was open to them.

He placed several other conditions on talks. These included a refusal to discuss an amnesty for Yingluck’s brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a military coup in 2006 and lives in self-imposed exile to avoid serving a two-year jail term for a 2008 corruption conviction that he says was politically motivated. Since the coup, Thaksin’s supporters and opponents have taken to the streets for extended periods in a sometime violent power struggle.

“The most important thing that everyone wants is the end of the protests and for the election to carry on, or else we cannot answer the questions from the international community of how we can protect democracy,” Yingluck told reporters in her hometown of Chiang Mai. She said her government was open to almost any approach, but deferred the question of whether she was willing to hold live televised talks.

The elections held earlier this month were disrupted by protesters and remain incomplete. Although the protests have failed to meet self-proclaimed deadlines for success, pressure has been increasing on Yingluck from other quarters.

Several legal challenges could force her from office, and the judiciary has a record of hostility toward her and a willingness to bend over backward to rule in support of the protesters. Thailand’s anti-graft commission on Thursday summoned Yingluck to hear charges of negligence for allegedly mishandling a government subsidy program. Her supporters blocked access and chain-locked one of the gates to the agency’s headquarters, so Yingluck’s legal representatives met commission members elsewhere to accomplish the formalities.

Yingluck could eventually face impeachment by the Senate for criminal charges if the National Anti-Corruption Commission delivers a final ruling against her. The agency is expected to issue its decision in one to two months.

The rice subsidy program — a flagship policy of Yingluck’s administration that helped win the votes of millions of farmers — has accumulated losses of at least $4.4 billion and has been dogged by corruption allegations. Payments to farmers have been delayed by many months.

Political violence has worsened recently, with shootings and grenade attacks at protest sites. Twenty-two people have died and hundreds have been hurt since November. The deaths of four children in attacks this past weekend caused widespread shock and sorrow, but seem to have only hardened the positions of both sides.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his increasing concern and reiterated his condemnation of the escalation of violence. He urged the parties to “engage as soon as possible in meaningful and inclusive dialogue toward ending the crisis and advancing genuine reform,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

“The secretary-general expresses his readiness to assist the parties and the Thai people in any way possible,” he said. Caretaker Foreign Minister Surapong Towichakchaikul said this week that he would suggest inviting Ban to visit Thailand to talk about how to resolve the political conflict.

Girl killed, dozens hurt in attack on Thai protest

February 23, 2014

BANGKOK (AP) — Gunmen in a pickup truck attacked an anti-government protest in Thailand’s east, killing at least one, an 8-year-old girl, and wounding dozens, as violence in the country’s 3-month-old political crisis spread outside the capital, Bangkok, officials said Sunday.

The attack took place Saturday night in Trat province, about 300 kilometers (180 miles) east of Bangkok, where about 500 protesters demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra were holding a rally near food stalls where people were dining.

Thai media reported that as many as three people were killed and several others are in critical condition, but National Security Council chief Lt. Gen. Paradorn Pattanathuabutr so far confirmed one fatality — an 8-year-old girl.

An employee of Trat Hospital, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release information, said one victim brought there had died. The attack was the latest in a string of protest-related violence roiling Thailand over the past three months, in which at least 16 people have been killed and hundreds hurt. The protesters want Yingluck to quit to make way for an appointed interim government to implement anti-corruption reforms, but she has refused.

Police Lt. Thanabhum Newanit said unidentified assailants in a pickup shot into the crowd and two explosive devices went off. It was not clear if the protest group, which uses armed guards, fought back. He and other officials said that about three dozen people were hurt.

Both supporters and opponents of the protest group called the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, as well as police, have been victims of the political violence, which before Saturday was mostly confined to the Thai capital. On Friday night, six people were hurt when unknown attackers threw a grenade into a protest crowd in Bangkok.

Both sides in the ongoing political dispute have blamed the other for instigating violence. “At this point we do not know who was behind the attack, but there are several factors to take into account in the investigation,” Paradorn said.

He added that the protesters in Trat have been rallying for a long time, “so they might have caused disturbance to others. And that area is controlled by groups that are affiliated with the anti-government side,” he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate end to the violence from any side, and urged the government to bring those responsible to justice. “The Secretary-General condemns the escalation of violence in Thailand over the past week, in particular armed attacks against protesters in which even children have been killed,” said a statement released Sunday by Ban’s spokesperson.

Thailand has been riven by sometimes violent political conflict since 2006, when then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother, was ousted by a military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. Thaksin’s supporters and opponents have since then taken to the streets for extended periods in a power struggle.

In 2010, pro-Thaksin “Red Shirts” occupied part of Bangkok for two months. When the army was called out to control them, more than 90 people were killed in violent confrontations. The Red Shirts have mostly kept a low profile during the current political unrest, but as Yingluck faces what her supporters feel are unfair court rulings loosening her grip on power, there are fears they will take to the streets again. The courts are widely seen as being based against Thaksin’s political machine.

Thaksin and his allies have won every national election since 2001, with his sister taking office in 2011 with a majority of parliamentary seats. Yingluck called early elections to try to reaffirm her mandate, but the protesters disrupted February polling, which has yet to be completed, leaving Thailand with a caretaker government. She also faces several legal challenges that could oust her from office.

Thaksin’s opponents claim he unfairly uses money politics and populist policies to dominate Thai politics. A spokesman for the opposition Democrat Party, which is closely allied with the protest group and boycotted the election, condemned the latest attack.

“This is something we have expected because the government has no way to go, so they have to resort to violence,” said Chavanond Intarakomalyasut. “I can’t say precisely that the government is behind the attack but whoever did it was on the government’s side.”

Attackers hurts dozens at Thai anti-govt rally

February 22, 2014

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — At least 35 people were hurt Saturday night when an anti-government rally in eastern Thailand was attacked by gunmen, police said.

Police Lt. Thanabhum Newanit said assailants in a pick-up truck attacked a the rally held by the People’s Democratic Reform Committee in the province of Trat, about 300 kilometers (180 miles) east of Bangkok.

He said attackers shot into the crowd and two explosive devices went off. It was not clear if the protest group, which uses armed guards, fought back. Hospitals said several of those hurt were in intensive care or undergoing surgery.

Protest-linked violence has increased recently, in the forms of fighting with police and attacks by unknown parties on the protest sites, which are mainly in the capital, Bangkok. On Friday night six people were hurt when unknown attackers threw a grenade into a protest crowd in the capital.

In the past three months 15 people have been killed and hundreds injured. The protesters want Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to resign to make way for an appointed interim government to implement anti-corruption reforms.

Thailand has been riven by sometimes violent political conflict since 2006, when then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s brother, was ousted by a military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. Thaksin’s supporters and opponents have since then taken to the streets for extended periods in a power struggle.

In 2010, pro-Thaksin “Red Shirts” occupied part of Bangkok for two months. When the army was called out to control them, more than 90 people were killed in violent confrontations. The Red Shirts have mostly kept a low profile during the current political unrest, but as Yingluck faces what her supporters feel are unfair court rulings loosening her grip on power, there are fears they will take to the streets again.

Thaksin and his allies have won every national election since 2001, with his sister taking office in 2011 with a majority of parliamentary seats. Yingluck late last year called early elections to try to reaffirm her mandate, but the protesters disrupted polling, which has yet to be completed, leaving Thailand with a caretaker government. She also faces several legal challenges that could oust her from office.

Thaksin’s opponents claim he unfairly uses money politics and populist policies to dominate Thai politics.

Thai court bans use of violence against protesters

February 19, 2014

BANGKOK (AP) — A Thai court ordered the government on Wednesday not to use force against protesters who are seeking the prime minister’s resignation, a day after violent clashes between riot police and demonstrators left five people dead.

The Civil Court ruled that some orders issued by the prime minister and a special security command center under an emergency decree were illegal because they would violate the protesters’ constitutional rights.

The prohibited orders included bans on gatherings of five or more people and the use of certain roads by the demonstrators. The court also prohibited the government from using force to crack down on the protesters.

The court, however, rejected a protester’s request that it revoke the state of emergency, saying it was within the executive branch’s power to enforce such a law. The Cabinet declared a state of emergency in the Bangkok area on Jan. 21 after the protesters threatened to shut down the capital by blocking key intersections and occupying government offices.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government has been attempting to avoid violence to keep the powerful military from stepping in. Thailand has been wracked by political unrest since 2006, when Yingluck’s brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted by a military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power.

Police have been ordered to exercise restraint and avoid using force, but deadly gunbattles erupted Tuesday after they moved into several locations around the city to remove protesters. Five people were killed and nearly 70 injured, according to Erawan emergency medical services.

On Wednesday, thousands of protesters surrounded the prime minister’s temporary office in Bangkok’s northern outskirts to demand her resignation. The demonstrators asked officials at the Defense Ministry complex to prevent Yingluck from using it as her backup office. She has been unable to enter her regular office compound in downtown Bangkok because it is blocked by protesters and some of its gates have been cemented shut.

The demonstrators also vowed to target businesses owned by Yingluck’s wealthy family. “Wherever she is, wherever she sleeps, we will go after her,” protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban told the crowd. “(We) must intensify our fight and we will attack Shinawatra businesses and their funding sources.”

The prime minister and Cabinet ministers stayed away from their temporary offices on Wednesday to prevent further tensions, the military said. Protesters have camped out for a month at major intersections across the capital to press for Yingluck’s resignation.

The demonstrators, who mostly draw their support from the urban middle and upper class and people in the south, want Yingluck to step down to make way for an appointed interim government to implement reforms they say are necessary to fight corruption and remove the Shinawatra family from politics.

In its decision, the Civil Court cited another court’s earlier ruling that said the protests had been peaceful. It was unclear whether the Civil Court’s ruling would affect arrest warrants issued for protest leaders for violating the state of emergency.

Thai police clash with protesters, leaving 4 dead

February 18, 2014

BANGKOK (AP) — Hundreds of riot police attempted to clear out anti-government protest sites around Thailand’s capital on Tuesday, triggering clashes that left four people dead and 64 others injured.

Multiple gunshots were heard near the prime minister’s offices, where riot police had started to remove protesters and dismantle a makeshift stage. Witnesses said shots were fired by both sides. Police later withdrew.

In another blow for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the state anti-corruption agency accused her on Tuesday of improperly handling an expensive rice subsidy scheme, putting her in jeopardy of being impeached.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission said Yingluck’s government proceeded with the scheme despite advice from experts that it was potentially wasteful and prone to corruption. The government has been months late in making payments to farmers for the rice they pledged to sell at above-market prices.

The commission said Yingluck has been called to formally hear the charges on Feb. 27. If it decides to submit the case to the Senate for possible impeachment, Yingluck will immediately be suspended from performing her official duties pending a Senate trial.

Yingluck’s elected government has been attempting to avoid violence to keep the powerful military from stepping in. Thailand has been wracked by political unrest since 2006, when Yingluck’s brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted by a military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. Since then, his supporters and opponents have vied for power, sometimes violently.

Erawan emergency medical services said three civilians and a police officer died and 64 others were injured in Tuesday’s clashes, including a journalist working for Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV. Department of Special Investigation chief Tharit Pengdit told a news conference that the protesters had launched grenades at the police.

The violence erupted after police moved into several locations around the city to detain and remove protesters who have been camped out for weeks to press for Yingluck’s resignation. They want the formation of an unelected people’s council to implement reforms to end corruption and keep the Shinawatra family out of politics.

They have blocked access to government offices since late last year and occupied key intersections around Bangkok for about a month. Until now, the police had refrained from dispersing them for fear of unleashing violence.

But on Monday, the government’s special security command center announced it would reclaim five protest sites around the city for public use, a move made possible under a state of emergency declared in January. Thousands of police officers, including armed anti-riot squads, were deployed across the city Tuesday in an operation the government called “Peace for Bangkok.”

Earlier Tuesday, 144 protesters near the Energy Ministry in the northern part of the city were peacefully detained and herded onto police trucks to be taken away for questioning, Tharit said. Transport Minister Chadchart Sittipunt told The Associated Press the protesters hijacked two of the city’s public buses and used them to block a rally site at the Interior Ministry near the Grand Palace.

The operations came a day before the Civil Court is to rule on the government’s invocation of the emergency decree, which allows authorities to exercise wide powers to detain protesters and hold them in custody for 30 days without charges.

If the decree is struck down by the court, the government will be forced to dismantle the special security command center it had set up to enforce the emergency measures. The ongoing rice scandal has created tumult in state banks, from which the government is seeking loans to pay off money owed to farmers. A deal to have the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives borrow as much as 20 billion baht ($625 million) from the Government Savings Bank was scuttled after a run on the savings bank by depositors sympathetic to the anti-government cause.

The savings bank requested the return of 5 billion baht ($156 million) already loaned, and its president resigned Tuesday to take responsibility for the situation. Since the protests began in November, at least 15 people have been killed and hundreds injured.

Associated Press photographer Wally Santana and television journalist Chalida Ekvitthayavechnukul contributed to this report.

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