Thai PM's supporters head for huge Bangkok rally, rule out violence

BANGKOK Fri Apr 4, 2014 6:54am EDT

1 of 4. Anti-government protesters blow whistles as hundreds follow their leader Suthep Thaugsuban (not pictured) protesting at the Teachers Council of Thailand in central Bangkok April 4, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Damir Sagolj

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BANGKOK (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of Thai government supporters are expected to descend on Bangkok this weekend in a symbolic show of force after months of sometimes violent protests aimed at bringing down Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

The speed at which political opponents are bringing court cases against Yingluck appears to have prompted her supporters into action, raising fears of a confrontation between the two sides.

Tens of thousands of Yingluck's "red shirt" supporters rallied at a Bangkok stadium in November to counter growing anti-government sentiment but abruptly disbanded the following month after violent clashes with anti-government protesters left five people dead and scores wounded.

Authorities said they were not expecting violence this time.

"Anti-government protesters will be in inner city Bangkok whereas the red shirts will outside," Paradorn Pattanathabutr, a security adviser to the prime minister, told Reuters.

"A confrontation looks unlikely but we're on the lookout for provocateurs."

Red shirt leaders said they were not looking for a fight.

"Our rally will show, loud and clear, that Thailand will only accept a democratically elected prime minister and nothing else," Nattawut Saikua, a red shirt leader, told Reuters.

"We won't use force. We're not after a confrontation."

Red shirt leaders expect up to 500,000 to turn up Saturday while police say around 350,000 will gather on Saturday and Sunday, with many expected to travel overnight on Friday by bus and train from provinces around the country, especially from Yingluck's support base in the north and northeast.

Anti-government protesters are based in Bangkok's central Lumpini Park on the edge of the financial district.

Five months of anti-government protests have halted traffic, spooked tourists to the "Land of Smiles" and hit business hard. Demonstrators have occupied state offices, held noisy street rallies and disrupted a February 2 general election which was nullified by a court in March.

They want broad political reforms, including the setting up of a "people's council" of notable worthies, before a new general election is held.

Weeks of protests have taken a toll on Thailand's economy. Figures show consumer confidence dropped to 68.8 in March from 69.9 in February. The index, which has fallen 12 straight months, it's at its lowest since November 2001.

The noose appears to be slowly closing in on Yingluck who faces a series of legal challenges including a case accepted by the Constitutional Court on Wednesday lodged by 27 senators who say Yingluck abused power when she transferred the national security chief in 2011.

Yingluck has been given 15 days to defend herself before the court. If found guilty, she faces removal from office.

She also faces charges of dereliction of duty brought against her by the National Anti-Corruption Commission. Should the commission forward the case to the Senate of possible impeachment, Yingluck would be suspended from official duties.

Twenty-four people have been killed in politically related violence since late November.

The protests, led by firebrand Suthep Thaugsuban, were triggered by Yingluck's moves last year to grant amnesty to her brother, the self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted by the military in 2006.

Protesters accuse billionaire Thaksin of rampant graft and want to remove the influence of family, promising ill-defined political reforms.

The crisis is the latest episode in an eight-year conflict that generally pits Bangkok's middle class and royalist establishment against poorer, mainly rural supporters of Thaksin and his sister.

The violence is the worst since 2010 when Suthep, at the time a deputy prime minister, sent in troops to end mass protests by the red shirts.

Suthep faces murder charges related to his role in that crackdown when more than 90 people were killed, and for insurrection in leading the latest protests.

(Additional reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Comments (3)
JPHR wrote:
Correct me if I am wrong but the amnesty was not specific for Thaksin but concerned a blanket amnesty also covering for instance Suthep and could have served to consign all this political strife to history.

Apr 04, 2014 4:46am EDT  --  Report as abuse
I feel so sorry for the Thai people. The government is so awful. One only has to look at the names and do some research on the net to see what type of people they are. “Some of us are equal but some of us are more equal than others.” Failed vote grabbing schemes that have lost the countries hundreds of millions of dollars, poor farmers not being paid and a rice scheme that has knocked Thailand off being the number one rice exporter in the world. A PM who to say the very least is a totally ill equipped for the job and a history of terrible thug behaviour. So sad. I only hope the true democratic protesters who know what is going on manage to win their struggle for true freedom and democracy against the thugs and their awful government. All my Thai friends are sad now because the way this government behave towards its people. Greed and more greed. So sad.

Apr 04, 2014 6:21am EDT  --  Report as abuse
JPHR wrote:
Actually Thailand isn’t a democracy yet as is demonstrated by the senate still consisting for 50% of appointed members instead of being elected. The old establishment still controls those 50%. Looks like the old establishment also has a disproportional influence over the Constitutional Court and the NACC. Good guess that the 27 senate members now lodging the new complaint aren’t even elected themselves. Though much noise has been made over the blanket amnesty the government planned covering Thaksin indeed but also Suthep, most probably the real reason is that the government also planned to change to a fully elected senate, which would destroy the failing hold on power of the establishment. Still at some point hopefully in the near future that establishment must be forced to accept that democracy is the only game in town. Proclaiming to be a Peoples Democratic Reform Council while actually obstructing democracy simply isn’t credible. Those still unidentified reforms the PDRC aren’t sufficient to cover up the fact that the PDRC simply hasn’t won any election over the last decade and is now trying to keep its failing hold on power by holding the political system and the economy hostage .
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013%E2%80%9314_Thai_political_crisis

Apr 06, 2014 5:46am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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