Thai Protesters Continue Street Protests as Abhisit Warns of More Deaths
Thai demonstrators again delayed a decision on when they will end protests, testing Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s patience after he offered a reconciliation plan that included cutting his term short by 13 months.
The protesters, who largely support exiled former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, want legal cases they filed against government officials to progress, leader Jatuporn Prompan said. Clashes between troops and protesters on April 10 killed 25 people, including four soldiers.
“We cannot reconcile if there is no one responsible for the deaths,” Jatuporn, a leader of the red-shirted protesters, told reporters late yesterday. The demonstration “can end tonight if Abhisit gets back to our demand that the government will go into the justice process as well,” he said.
The Red Shirts’ refusal to end their occupation of a key Bangkok business district may scuttle peace efforts and lead to more violent incidents. Gunfire and grenade attacks two days ago killed two police officers, the latest victims of political violence that has claimed 29 lives over the past month.
Abhisit offered a reconciliation plan on May 3 that includes an election on Nov. 14, about 13 months before his term expires. The five-part plan includes measures to safeguard the monarchy, address economic inequality, ensure an independent media, create a body to investigate political violence and assess ways to change the constitution and disputed laws.
“Don’t hesitate,” Abhisit told the Red Shirts yesterday in his weekly television address. “If protesters insist that they will join the reconciliation process, they should end the protests soon to prevent further losses.”
Plan ‘Strongly’ Welcomed
The Red Shirts have put various conditions on dispersing after agreeing in principle with Abhisit’s plan. Their yellow- shirted rivals, who took over Bangkok’s airports in 2008 to help oust Thaksin’s allies and propel Abhisit to power, rejected the plan and called on the prime minister to withdraw it or resign.
“We remain cautious about progress as those who don’t want peace or political progress continue to employ violence as a means to undermine resolution of political differences,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, who visited Bangkok yesterday, said in a statement.
U.S. authorities “strongly welcome” Abhisit’s plan and called for Red Shirt leaders to “seize this opportunity to responsibly and expeditiously lead Thailand out of its current predicament,” Campbell said.
Thailand’s SET Index of stocks fell the past two trading sessions after jumping 4.4 percent the day after Abhisit made the election offer. The benchmark has risen 4.6 percent since the beginning of the year, compared with a 1.7 percent decline in the MSCI Asia Pacific Index.
The Red Shirts, largely comprised of the rural and urban poor, have defied a state of emergency since April 7. The group has set up barricades of bamboo and rubber tires around a central business area as large as New York’s Central Park.
A failed attempt to clear the protesters on April 10 led to Thailand’s worst political violence in 18 years as black-clad gunmen and troops exchanged fire. Three other violent incidents, including an April 22 grenade attack on an elevated train line station in a main business artery, killed four others.
The government blames armed elements within the Red Shirts for the carnage and plans to charge nine main leaders with terrorism. Abhisit yesterday cited Major-General Khattiya Sawisdipol, a soldier openly supporting the Red Shirts, as the main obstacle to reconciliation and ending the protests.
“If protesters don’t call off the rally, terrorists may take this opportunity to use violence against leaders and demonstrators,” the prime minister said.
Abhisit also said Thaksin wanted the demonstration to be prolonged because he doesn’t benefit from reconciliation. The round-the-clock rallies began two weeks after a court seized $1.4 billion of the fugitive former premier’s fortune.
Thaksin has helped orchestrate protests from overseas locations since 2008, when he fled a two-year jail sentence in Thailand for abuse of power. Parties linked to him have won the past four elections on platforms of improved health care and village loans, policies Abhisit’s administration has built upon.
Abhisit’s Democrat party hasn’t won a nationwide vote since 1992. The plan for a Nov. 14 election may fail to materialize if the Red Shirts don’t end their protest and join in the reconciliation process, he said yesterday.