Thai crisis deepens as army chief hints at intervention

BANGKOK Fri Dec 27, 2013 6:56am EST

1 of 4. Thai policemen inspect the site of clashes between anti-government protesters and riot police at the Thai-Japan youth stadium in central Bangkok December 27, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha

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BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's powerful army chief refused on Friday to rule out military intervention to defuse an escalating political crisis, the latest blow for a government determined a February election will go ahead despite deadly clashes with protesters.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha said "the door was neither open nor closed" when asked whether a coup would happen, a marked shift from the strong denials the armed forces routinely make.

"Anything can happen," Prayuth told a news conference in Bangkok. "It depends on the situation ... we are trying to do the right thing, in a peaceful way and we urge negotiations."

The general's comments represent a major setback at a critical time for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who is under attack from opponents determined to overthrow her and weaken the influence of her self-exiled brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

She has called an election for February 2, which her Puea Thai Party is almost certain to win, but anti-government protesters have vowed to stop the poll. The Election Commission (EC) also asked for a postponement after violent clashes on Thursday.

The political deadlock and violence have become all too familiar in Thailand, where the military have staged or attempted to stage 18 coups in 81 years of democracy.

Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy is divided broadly between those who love Thaksin, such as the rural poor in the populous north and northeast, and those who loathe him, a group that includes Bangkok's conservative elite and middle class.

The events of the past two days suggest powerful forces could again be at work to undermine Thaksin's populist political machine, which has won every election since 2001.

Yingluck has been in her northern strongholds this past week rallying support ahead of a ballot she is determined will go ahead, aware her caretaker government could be exposed to an escalation of street protests, legal challenges and the possibility of a military overthrow.

Rumors of a coup have swirled in recent weeks. Three sources with ties to the military have told Reuters recently that two of Prayuth's still-influential predecessors had expressed their support for the anti-government protest movement.

HERO AND VILLAIN

The protesters want the suspension of what they say is a fragile democracy subverted by Thaksin to enhance the business empires of his family and friends, using cheap healthcare, micro-loans and state subsidies to buy off the poor.

They draw strength from the south, as well as Bangkok's establishment of old-money families, the royalist bureaucracy and generals who despise Thaksin's rise.

Fifty-three parties have signed up to run in the polls. The EC said on Friday it would seek talks with the government and demonstrators to break the deadlock.

"We expect to have a solution before the New Year comes," commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn told reporters.

The government was initially counting on the army for its cooperation, even though it overthrew Thaksin in 2006.

Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul asked the military on Friday to provide security for election candidates and voters but there has been no public response.

Instead of an election, the protesters want an appointed "people's council" to replace Yingluck and introduce political reforms before any future vote.

Their wider aim is to neutralize the power of the Shinawatra family. Muddying the waters further, the main opposition Democratic Party says it will boycott the vote.

The weeks of protests had been largely peaceful, even though as many as 200,000 people have been on the streets. A hard core of about 500 protesters, some carrying knives and slingshots, were behind Thursday's violence.

The Public Health Ministry said two people, including a policeman, had been killed by an unidentified gunman and 153 people wounded, 39 of them police, in Thursday's clashes.

The crisis is starting to drag on the economy. The Thai baht plumbed close to four-year lows this week and Thai stocks fell two percent after Thursday's violence.

The Finance Ministry cut its growth forecast for 2013 on Thursday, due in part to the political unrest, and 2014 forecasts are also in jeopardy.

The first two years of Yingluck's government had been relatively smooth until a blunder by Puea Thai in November, when it tried to push through an unpopular amnesty bill that would have exonerated Thaksin from a 2008 graft conviction he says was politically motivated.

(Additional reporting by Jutarat Skulpichetrat; Writing by Martin Petty and Paul Tait; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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Comments (17)
Eric.Klein wrote:
A protest group lead by a man under inditement for the deaths in the previous round of protests wants to set up a group that would remove the 1 person 1 vote democratic system.

He wants to set up his own council to change the voting laws so that the poor, who have benefited from the policies of the Puea Thai Party.

If you do not like that people vote for the other party make it harder (or illegal) for them to vote (and maybe get out of going to jail yourself for past wrongs).

Seems that this is just what the American Republican and Tea Parties are trying to do with redistricting voter suppression.

Dec 27, 2013 2:55am EST  --  Report as abuse
dmitry0 wrote:
Suthep Thaugsuban and other leaders of the Democrat Party in Thailand are clamoring for the suspension of its modest democracy. These demagogues are calling for a military coup.

When we see this bizarre situation in which a political party in a “democracy” aligns with goons to overthrow a duly elected government, we must ask, “What is wrong with the people of this ‘democracy’? Why do the majority of the people allow a minority to destroy the institutions of democracy?”

This kind of idiocy does not occur in a Western democracy like Germany, Sweden, Japan, etc.

If you are a student at a university in Thailand, then you are well educated, and you can, via the Internet, read about how a nation like Germany operates in a vastly different way. You know that the people destroying the future of Thailand are the royal family, the politicians in the Democrat Party, the thugs who seized control of the government offices, etc.

If you are a student at a university in Thailand and if you care about your nation, then you must take up arms (i.e., weapons) and protect the government of Yingluck Shinawatra. You must kill the king and the rest of the royal family and must kill politicians like Suthep Thaugsuban, etc.

Violence is wrong in a Western democracy, but Thailand is not such a democracy. It is being impeded by the monarchy, the military, and the political minority represented by the Democrat Party. When a nation is harmed by this kind of minority, which constantly threatens to use violence, the majority must rise up and use violence to promote a Western democracy.

Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother need your help. Both she and her brother have tried strenuously to Westernize Thailand so that you, the Thai citizen, can enjoy the same level of freedoms and prosperity that exists in the West. The Democrat Party and the monarchy have tried to block their efforts. Only you, the university student who knows the facts about genuine Western democracies and Thailand, can fix this situation. You must kill the king and the rest of the royal family, and you must kill politicians like Suthep Thaugsuban.

reporter, USA, http://theclearsky.blogspot.com/

Dec 27, 2013 4:36am EST  --  Report as abuse
dmitry0 wrote:
Suthep Thaugsuban and other leaders of the Democrat Party in Thailand are clamoring for the suspension of its modest democracy. These demagogues are calling for a military coup.

When we see this bizarre situation in which a political party in a “democracy” aligns with goons to overthrow a duly elected government, we must ask, “What is wrong with the people of this ‘democracy’? Why do the majority of the people allow a minority to destroy the institutions of democracy?”

This kind of idiocy does not occur in a Western democracy like Germany, Sweden, Japan, etc.

If you are a student at a university in Thailand, then you are well educated, and you can, via the Internet, read about how a nation like Germany operates in a vastly different way. You know that the people destroying the future of Thailand are the royal family, the politicians in the Democrat Party, the thugs who seized control of the government offices, etc.

If you are a student at a university in Thailand and if you care about your nation, then you must take up arms (i.e., weapons) and protect the government of Yingluck Shinawatra. You must kill the king and the rest of the royal family and must kill politicians like Suthep Thaugsuban, etc.

Violence is wrong in a Western democracy, but Thailand is not such a democracy. It is being impeded by the monarchy, the military, and the political minority represented by the Democrat Party. When a nation is harmed by this kind of minority, which constantly threatens to use violence, the majority must rise up and use violence to promote a Western democracy.

Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother need your help. Both she and her brother have tried strenuously to Westernize Thailand so that you, the Thai citizen, can enjoy the same level of freedoms and prosperity that exists in the West. The Democrat Party and the monarchy have tried to block their efforts. Only you, the university student who knows the facts about genuine Western democracies and Thailand, can fix this situation. You must kill the king and the rest of the royal family, and you must kill politicians like Suthep Thaugsuban.

reporter, USA, http://theclearsky.blogspot.com/

Dec 27, 2013 4:37am EST  --  Report as abuse
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