No resistance as crowds occupy Thai capital in festive protest

BANGKOK Mon Jan 13, 2014 2:11pm EST

1 of 13. An anti-government protester looks on from above as others march with a giant Thai national flag at the shopping district in central of Bangkok January 13, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Nir Elias

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BANGKOK (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters occupied parts of central Bangkok on Monday, ratcheting up a two-month agitation to force the resignation of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and meeting no resistance.

Police and soldiers maintained a low profile as the "Shutdown Bangkok" drive got under way in the city of about 12 million people. The mood was festive, with many protesters singing and dancing in the streets.

Major intersections that normally teem with cars and trucks were blockaded, but trains and river ferries were operating, most shops were open and motorbikes plied the roads freely.

"Don't ask me how long this occupation will last," protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said in a speech to supporters carried by the movement's BlueSky television channel. "We will not stop until we win."

The turmoil is the latest chapter in an eight-year conflict pitting Bangkok's middle class and royalist establishment against the mostly poorer, rural supporters of Yingluck and her self-exiled brother, billionaire ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin was ousted by the army in 2006 and sentenced to jail in absentia for abuse of power in 2008, but the former telecoms tycoon looms large over Thai politics and is the dominant force behind his sister's administration from his home in Dubai.

In a bid to end the unrest, Yingluck called a snap election for February 2, but Suthep has rejected the poll, which the prime minister's Puea Thai Party would probably win.

As the blockade began to bite, Yingluck invited the protest leaders and political parties to a meeting on Wednesday to discuss an Election Commision proposal to postpone the vote, according to a senior aide of the prime minister.

The stock exchange rose on the hint of a compromise, ending 2.2 percent higher. But the protesters have rejected any election and want to install an appointed "people's council" to change the electoral system and bring in reforms to weaken Thaksin's sway.

"This won't end easily, and the turnout today is impressive, so it seems this deadlock looks set to continue," said Sukum Nuansakul, a political analyst and former dean at Bangkok's Ramkhamhaeng University.

"Suthep has said he won't negotiate with the government, yet the government said today it will try to invite all warring parties to the table. The protest group's aims to overhaul the political system in this country won't happen overnight. This could be just the beginning."

Eight people, including two police officers, have been killed and scores wounded in violence between protesters, police and government supporters since November.

Shootings were reported overnight near a government administrative complex that protesters began to blockade late on Sunday and at the headquarters of the opposition Democrat Party, which has thrown in its lot with the protest movement.

Pro-Thaksin groups started rallies in several provincial regions on Sunday but are steering clear of Bangkok for now. Suthep has said he would call off the protests if, as some fear, civil war threatened to break out.

The government deployed 10,000 police to maintain law and order, along with 8,000 soldiers at government offices.

"We don't want confrontation with the protesters ... In some places we will let them into government buildings," Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said on Sunday.

COUP RUMOURS

In Lumpini Park in central Bangkok, protesters had erected hundreds of closely packed, brand new tents in anticipation of what could be a long stand-off.

As the first day of the shutdown drew to a close, a crowd of several thousand - including farmers from the south and workers from nearby office buildings - gathered near a stage to hear speeches and jeer at Yingluck's government.

As the light faded, the carnival atmosphere was tempered by apprehension that provocateurs could attack the camp, said Thanat Thanakitamnuay, a Maserati-driving protest leader who is the grandson of a former deputy prime minister.

"We expect a few home-made bombs or rounds fired at us but we don't expect any serious injuries, or injuries at all," he said, before adding, laughing: "I'm just being optimistic."

"As soon as the situation gets out of hand, the army will step in," he said.

Rumors of a coup are rife. The military has staged or attempted 18 coups in 81 years of on-off democracy, although it has tried to stay neutral this time and army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has publicly refused to take sides.

In 2010 the army put down a pro-Thaksin movement that closed down parts of central Bangkok for weeks. More than 90 people, mostly Thaksin supporters, died during those events.

The latest protests took off when the government tried to push through a political amnesty that would have let Thaksin return home without serving jail time for corruption.

Thaksin, who redrew Thailand's political map by courting rural voters to win back-to-back elections in 2001 and 2005, gained an unassailable mandate that he then used to advance the interests of some major companies, including his own.

He is opposed by an elite that feels threatened by his rise and regards his sister as a puppet. Thaksin's opponents also include some academics who see him as a corrupt rights abuser and the urban middle class who resent, as they see it, their taxes being used for his political war chest.

The unrest has hurt tourism and delayed huge infrastructure projects that had been expected to support the economy. Consumer confidence is at a two-year low.

Protest leaders did not target public transport or Bangkok's airports. Anti-Thaksin protesters caused chaos when they forced the two main airports to close for days in 2008.

However, the central bank, finance ministry and some other ministries were forced to move operations to buildings around the city or even to neighboring provinces.

"The aim is not war," Kasit Piromya, a former foreign minister and member of the opposition who joined Monday's protests, told Reuters. "We have to keep pressure on the government until it is crippled and cannot function."

(Additional reporting by Andrew R.C. Marshall, Aubrey Belford, Panarat Thepgumpanat and Orathai Sriring; Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Alan Raybould and Nick Macfie)

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Comments (4)
Pterosaur wrote:
This is ridiculous! Complete anarchy!

Jan 12, 2014 11:06pm EST  --  Report as abuse
SirPercy100 wrote:
The lawless protestors are shooting themselves on the feet. Tourists are disgusted with their nonsense and are not coming from China during the big Chinese New Year season, neither are the Americans or Europeans. The shameless scoundrels make you question the future of Thailand in all aspects.

Jan 12, 2014 11:33pm EST  --  Report as abuse
4nahtuey wrote:
This is a corruption as it best!!!: Abhisit listened to his fortune teller who said that his luck would be at best in 6 to 8 months. Therefore, for now, his job is to postpone an election until that time, but other 30 parties leaders did not agree with that proposal, and the constitution (his government worte) states that an election must take place not more than 60 days after the People’s Hose was desolved. So, Abhisit’s party boycott the election on February 2, 2014. Then the new corruption begins:

Most candidates in 28 districts from the south and some candidates from other parts of the country could not file their applications because the mobs disrupted the process. The Election Committee, (EC), instead of moving the election offices or making better plans to provide effective registration process, they told the candidates to file with the police to inform the police they had gone to file their papers but could not complete the process because of those mobs. Those candidates were told that the the EC would take care of them later. In facts, later, the EC told those candidates have to go to the Constitution Court (the Kangaroo Court-the court who believe that they are all in one power-can write the law/constitution, be a jury, and be a judge). This Kangaroo Court then told the candidates that they would not approve the name of those candidates, and after these candidates have jumped through those hoops, the Election Committee told those candidates that it was too late The EC could not accept them either. The Election Committee then asked Ms Yingluck to postpone the election date for 180 days even though this is not allowed by the constitution. This will be in the range with the time that Abhisit will have the best luck. We call this: “The greatest corruption System at all time”.

If they can not win by Trick, they will use their Magic. If they can win by Pray they will use their Spell. When all else fail, they will use their Corruption Force to get their ways.

For those who think that they can complete the real reform in Thailand in one year are not speaking the truth. I marched in 1973 for Thai democracy with a goal to have a New constitution (New Constitution promulgated in 1978). Thailand has gone through coups about 18 times end up with military took over, and current conflicts facing us are confusing to many, and the constitution be rewritten many times. We all know now more than ever, we need to modify the constitution to bring all inputs or agreements from all sectors of the populations. Bringing these many groups to accept the same ideas is not easy. There will be those who have to give something, will receive something.

All of these conflicts are not new, and it’s so common to every country in the world: “ It a matter of how to distribute the country wealth”. The elite riches want to hold on to their wealth and power to rule and control their interest, create classes. They believe that if you give freedom to the poor, the poor will rise up and they can not keep the control.

In Thailand, corruption and different classes society are not new things. Many years ago, for the middle class to get a house phone, it took more than 8-10 years after they filed and made a 10,000 bath deposit: for the rich, let’s see “ it may be next week to get your phone”. Then we got these new tech. Guy, not only you get the house phone quickly, you can have your mobile as well. The children were given access to learn computer and can afford to buy one for themselves. When you need services such as hospital, you stand in lines for hour or days, for the riches, they put their money in the envelopes for a doctor and the nurses, and a first class hospital room is available to them right away-never mind cutting any one queue or any one may die. The poor study hard to get to a good school or a good university, the riches would find who you know, who should you give the money to buy a seat in those places for your children. After the middle class and the poor graduated and look for a job, the chance is so slim. But the riches class see if you can find some one important “who you know” to place your children some good jobs. They live good lives: buy expensive or import products showing of their wealth. When it time to retire, they get their retirement pensions as well as keeping receiving a salary from their retired work places-claiming they work as consultant one day a week-specially the big short and military generals. “The system of “You scratch my back I scratch yours in return”. Who want to give all of these up. It’s a good live. They don’t even want to raise a minimum wage they pay to the poor to $10 per day when they all can exploit these cheap labors and enjoy more benefits, pay less money for goods made from these sweat labors. For $10/ per day income these poor hardly can feed their families. We need to change these systems, to eradicate corruptions at the same time, improve human lives to be able to live fairly together? If an official have to report his or her wealth before during and after their services, should the judges, business men, top military generals do the same thing. This may slow down some corruptions. I bet they all so called these “good men” will object to these requirements when they have to follow them. At least the following matters need to be changed.

1. Political processes need to be changed. The House of people should all be elected and represent the people who elect them.
2.The Judicial System need to be change; to prevent a judge to act as a legislator, jury, and a judge. Each Court have their own specific duties and power within their limits.
3.Military should understand that they have duties to protect the country from any harms, Their duties do not include injecting themselves in the country’s political administration.
4.The Economic group, so called private, should follow same rule of law as other citizen.
5.The education systems need to educate, include for all student to study the political systems and their civic duties within the rules of law. The professor’s duties has to include teaching ethic, not to brain wash their students.
6.We need to have the effective evaluation systems and the effective enforcement systems.

I am glad that many Thai people still believe in democracy and constitution, willing to work through conflicts by using processes under the law. Therefore, I think we can find the best ways to move forward for all citizens instead of stepping back to use dictatorship system again. I consider having Freedom and Democracy is important to all of us.

Jan 13, 2014 9:59am EST  --  Report as abuse
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