Thailand plays down coup talk ahead of city "shutdown" by protesters

BANGKOK Fri Jan 10, 2014 12:54pm EST

A woman waves a flag as she joins other anti-government protesters gathering in Bangkok's business district January 8, 2014. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

A woman waves a flag as she joins other anti-government protesters gathering in Bangkok's business district January 8, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Damir Sagolj

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BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's government on Friday played down talk of a military coup ahead of a planned "shutdown" of the capital next week by protesters trying to overthrow Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and said life would go on much as normal.

Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said it was alarmist of the U.S. embassy to advise its citizens on Friday to stock up on two weeks' supply of food and water ahead of what protest leaders say will be a prolonged siege of Bangkok.

"Maybe they worry too much ... People will live their normal life. Don't be afraid of things that will happen because we try to control the situation," he said.

Demonstrators led by former opposition politician Suthep Thaugsuban aim to paralyze the capital for between 15 and 20 days by blocking seven main intersections, causing gridlock in a city clogged with traffic at the best of times.

The turmoil is the latest episode in an eight-year conflict that pits Bangkok's middle class and royalist establishment against the mostly poorer, rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Friday that he had spoken with Yingluck and the leader of the opposition Democrat Party, Abhisit Vejjajiva, during the past few days in a bid to help them bridge their differences.

"I am very concerned that the situation could escalate in the days ahead, particularly next Monday ... when protestors said they will shut down Bangkok," Ban told reporters. "I urge all involved to show restraint, avoid provocative acts and settle their differences peacefully, through dialogue."

The protesters want to suspend what they say is a fragile democracy destabilized by Thaksin, whom they accuse of nepotism and corruption. They want to eradicate the political influence of his family by altering electoral arrangements in ways they have not spelt out, along with other political reforms.

Thaksin was ousted by the military in 2006 and sentenced to jail in absentia for abuse of power in 2008 but he still looms large over Thai politics, the dominant force behind his sister's administration from his self-exile in Dubai.

COUNTER-COUP PLANS

The authorities say they will deploy more than 14,000 troops and police on Monday, including police at the main airport, to maintain order in the streets.

Rumors of an impending coup have intensified. The army has staged or attempted 18 coups in 81 years of on-off democracy, but it has tried to remain neutral this time and its chief, Prayuth Chan-ocha, has publicly refused to take sides.

The government has repeatedly played down talk of a military intervention but said on Friday if there was one, it would counter it. "We already have a plan ...," said Surapong, offering no elaboration.

He said the government would operate during the shutdown from backup locations at the national police headquarters and at an army base in the north of Bangkok.

He said Yingluck would not relocate her government to other provinces. She heads a caretaker cabinet after calling a snap election in December. The opposition Democrat Party has said it will boycott the election.

Polling is set for February 2, but the Election Commission said on Friday the government should consider pushing back the date.

It said some candidates had been unable to register in 28 districts in the south - a stronghold of the anti-Thaksin protesters - and that could delay the reopening of parliament if there were not enough lawmakers elected to meet the quorum of 95 percent of the seats in the house.

The protesters have rejected the election, demanding that the government step down to be replaced by an unelected "people's council".

The courts may play a part in forcing the government out, as legal cases are building up against Yingluck and her allies.

The country's anti-corruption body pressed charges on Tuesday against 308 lawmakers, mostly from her Puea Thai party, for trying to make the Senate a fully elected chamber, which a court ruled illegal in November.

Puea Thai officials have expressed concern the government's enemies might be plotting a judicial coup and accuse the courts of bias. They say they are alarmed at the speed with which such matters are being processed, in contrast to cases against opposition figures, including protest leader Suthep, that have languished in the courts for years.

"They (the protesters) want to grab power unconstitutionally ... but the Constitutional Court ruled that there was no case (to answer against that)," Deputy Prime Minister Pongthep Thepkanchana told foreign media on Friday.

"In this Constitutional Court there are some judges ... who had an explicit role against the government in 2006," he added, referring to when Thaksin was toppled.

The judiciary has intervened several times in the past to throw out governments linked or allied to Thaksin.

(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Editing by Alan Raybould, Clarence Fernandez and Andrew Hay)

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Comments (5)
Willphanh wrote:
Military should protect the elected government, no matter what the circumstances. Who gives orders, in Thailand Military or Prime Minister? Something’s very fishy going on in Thailand I can smell it. If the Military backs Suthep, Yingluck should request International Community to help. Someone needs to step in to stop this childish game and teach them lessons. Who in the world can agree on everything what the government does? The Bangkok elites and the Southerners need communist dictatorship rule, it would be more significant.

Jan 10, 2014 9:29am EST  --  Report as abuse
Thaiperson wrote:
I am not sure what you mean by “The Bangkok and the Southerners need communist dictatorship rule..” My guess is it is a sarcasm? I happen to be born in the south of Thailand in 1954 but have lived in the U.S. for 34 years. Let me tell you a little bit about the Thais and some of the causes of poverty in the country other than the fact of the rich there, like anywhere else in the world, make rules that benefit them. Most Thais in the southern parts of Thailand are more aggressive in their speech and manners (characters) They have their own southern dialect. They talk fast and most don’t sit around doing nothing. It rains often in those parts of the country, and the rubber trees grow well. Businessmen have easy access to Singapore and Malaysia. A lot of Chinese immigrants and their children who were born in Thailand live there (in the south of Thailand), and they are hard working people and good with business, both the low educated and higher educated ones. The northeastern parts don’t get much rain. Most parts of the soil are dry. People there are more easy going and laid back. The heat exhausts them, so they don’t move as fast as the people in the south. Those in the north (Chiengmai) move and talk even slower. Chinese are known for being financially successful in Thailand, and not many of them live in the north eastern and the north. Thai people in Bangkok move fast but their dialect is gentle. If you are a Thai and live in rural areas in Thailand and want to have what the rich people in Bangkok have you have to have money and work hard. Intelligence helps too. A lot of children of the Thai southerners make it to have comfortable life in Bangkok because their parents work hard and know how to save money and make it grow. Now, a question is should the people in Bangkok help poor people in Thailand to get out of poverty and give them opportunity to have better life? My answer is yes. Why did Thaksin get kicked out from Thailand? There were various reasons. One of them was he didn’t know how to compromise. For a long time the Thais have been free from being colonized by other powerful countries in the world because the leaders (the kings) were smart. They compromised with the big countries instead of fighting with them. Every Thai knows the kings and soldiers are the powerful figures in Thailand. Only the communists dislike the present King and the old system of Thailand. Thaksin and his followers and the communists think at present the monarchy and royalists are in their way of better financial betterment. Thaksin wanted to throw out the old system by getting the majority poor Thais to rise up. What do you think the rich Americans in the U.S. will do if Obama tells all the people on welfare (the welfare recipients) to rise up to demand more financial help the way Thaksin did? What do you think the U.S. Army will do if a welfare mother throw rocks at John McCain or Mr. Behner? Thaksin went to the U.S. to study something for a few years and went back to Thailand with his own self made frame of how Thailand should be and tried to fit all the Thais in the frame, and what he got was creating civil wars. I am not against changes and assistance to the less fortunate but Thaksin and his followers need to think more logically and fairly. If you are poor and want any rich persons to help you, ask them nicely. Do not kill them if they say no. That is where I stand as moral ethics go. One fact of human life and system, however, is when rich people in a country don’t pay attention to the problems and needs of the needy tragedies such as what is happening in Thailand can happen.

Jan 10, 2014 8:23pm EST  --  Report as abuse
khampee wrote:
yes the courts EC CC are all appointed by the Coup Our the D party and are abusing there powers to pay back there masters who are behind this protest,everything Sethep say the elected government is doing ,is in fact what he and his master are doing,as for a coup,the millions of people who support the government will not stand for it.and the army know it.

Jan 11, 2014 10:53pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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