Thai Anti-Government Protesters Enter Army Headquarters
Leaders of Thailand’s main opposition party joined protesters in Bangkok storming the army’s headquarters to urge the military to back their bid to oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Protester’s also marched on the U.S. Embassy and the offices of the ruling party yesterday, before about a 1,000 demonstrators entered the army compound to plead for support of the military, which helped oust Yingluck’s brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, in a 2006 coup. They left the area hours later without incident.
Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister with the opposition Democratic Party and leader of the demonstrations, has rejected multiple offers from Yingluck for talks to ease tensions. He pledged yesterday to ratchet up the protests, which he said won’t end until her government and the political influence of Thaksin have been removed.
“In one to two days, either I or they will survive this,” he told supporters. “If they win, I will have to go to jail. If the people win, many people on that side will go to jail.”
The protesters, whose numbers have dwindled since their peak of more than 100,000 on Nov. 24, remain camped at several government buildings in the capital. Numbers may swell with the arrival of the weekend after Suthep promised a “new operation” that would bring the rallies and Yingluck’s government to an end. Thaksin supporters plan their own rally today.
Leaders of the Democratic Party, who back the overthrow of Yingluck, joined the protesters in occupying buildings for the first time yesterday.
“The party will support the uprooting of Thaksin’s regime,” said Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Democrat Party leader who oversaw a deadly crackdown on Thaksin’s supporters as premier in 2010. “There may be some differences in details about the country’s reforms, but we have the same target.”
While the protests have been largely peaceful, the demonstrators now appeared to be trying to create a confrontation, either with the police or with Thaksin’s supporters, said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, associate professor at Kyoto University’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
“If violence takes place it could justify the demonstration,” he said. “I think moreover it could invite military intervention in politics once again.”
Demonstrators yesterday marched to the headquarters of Yingluck’s Pheu Thai party, where riot police were waiting but no confrontation took place. Protesters a day earlier gathered outside the police headquarters in central Bangkok, the site of an army crackdown on Thaksin supporters in 2010 that killed more than 90 people, and partially cut the electricity supply to the building.
Parties linked to Thaksin have won the past five elections with support from Thailand’s rural north and north-eastern provinces, while the Democrats, backed primarily by urban voters and royalists, haven’t won a national poll in more than 20 years.
“Clearly these people have felt that they couldn’t compete with the Thaksin proxy in politics through the electoral process,” Pavin said. “This is the only way for them to get rid of the government.”
Yingluck, whose party controls more than 300 seats in the 500-member lower house of parliament, survived a no-confidence vote yesterday over opposition allegations of economic mismanagement, corruption and attempting to the pass an amnesty bill that would have exonerate Thaksin of alleged crimes committed before the coup as well as pardon those involved in the killing of Thaksin backers in 2010.
Thaksin has lived overseas since a court in 2008 sentenced him to two years in prison for helping his wife buy land from the government. A court seized 46.4 billion baht ($1.4 billion) of his family’s money in 2010, two weeks before his supporters started protests that shut down Bangkok’s commercial center and ended in the military crackdown and arson attacks.
The new unrest has prompted foreigners to pull a net $1.3 billion from bonds this month through Nov. 27, according to Thai Bond Market Association data. The baht reached 32.228 per dollar yesterday, the weakest level since Sept. 9, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The Democrats last assumed power in 2008 after a court ruling disbanded a Thaksin-allied party during and the army commander called on the prime minister, Thaksin’s brother in law, to resign.
This time it appears that the army and people close to palace have no interest in seeing the government fall, said Michael Montesano, a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.
“One factor making that position more likely is the lack of a decent alternative,” he said. “The Democrats must accept that their party has not looked very much during the past three weeks like one ready to run the country in a constructive or even steady manner.”
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