(Fixes headline, removes "faces")
* Anti-government demonstrators resume street protests in
* PM Yingluck has until March 31 to defend herself against
* Government supporters plan big rally on April 5
* Growing fears Thailand heading towards serious civil
By Amy Sawitta Lefevre
BANGKOK, March 24 Anti-government demonstrators
in Thailand resumed street protests on Monday after lying low
for weeks, piling pressure on increasingly beleaguered Prime
Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who is expected to face
impeachment within days.
Her opponents were emboldened by a Constitutional Court
decision on Friday to nullify last month's election, delaying
the formation of a new administration and leaving Yingluck in
charge of a caretaker government with limited powers.
Yingluck's opponents first took to the streets in late
November. Twenty-three people were killed and hundreds wounded
in the political violence before the protests began to subside
earlier this month. But the court ruling appears to have given
her foes a second wind.
The protests are the latest instalment of an eight-year
political battle broadly pitting the Bangkok middle class and
royalist establishment against the mostly rural supporters of
Yingluck and her billionaire brother, former premier Thaksin
Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup.
There are growing fears that Thailand could be heading
towards serious civil unrest. After months of restraint,
Thaksin's "red shirt" supporters have begun making militant
noises under hardline new leaders.
They plan a big rally on April 5, possibly in Bangkok, and
the political atmosphere is expected to become even more highly
charged in coming days.
Yingluck has until March 31 to defend herself before the
National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) for dereliction of
duty over a ruinous rice-buying scheme that has run up huge
If the commission recommends her impeachment, she could be
removed from office by the upper house Senate, which is likely
to have an anti-Thaksin majority after an election for half its
members on March 30.
In a sign of the potential trouble ahead, one hundred red
shirts blocked entrances to the NACC's offices in north Bangkok
with sandbags on Monday to prevent officials there from working
as police formed a wall to stop the group from facing off with
anti-government protesters gathered nearby.
Earlier, red shirt supporters attacked a Buddhist monk,
slightly injuring him, near the NACC offices after he insulted
them for blocking a road in front of the complex.
The Constitutional Court annulment of the election could
offer a way out of the political stalemate if the main
opposition Democrat Party, which boycotted the Feb. 2 poll,
decides to run in a fresh vote. So far, however, the Democrat
Party has given no clear indication on what it plans to do.
The Election Commission, which is in charge of organising
the new poll, met on Monday to decide how to proceed. Its
chairman has said it would take at least three months to
organise a new vote once a date is agreed.
It is increasingly uncertain whether Yingluck will last that
long, due to the mounting legal challenges.
The prospect of her removal has bolstered the confidence of
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has said he will lead a
march every day this week to urge supporters to join a "massive"
rally in Bangkok on Saturday to press for political reforms
before a new vote takes place.
"Our rally will be the biggest signal to Yingluck Shinawatra
and the Thaksin regime that the Thai public does not want
elections before reforms," Suthep said in a speech on Sunday.
His supporters prevented voting in 28 constituencies on Feb.
2, providing grounds for the Constitutional Court to annul the
election. Yingluck's supporters say the court, set up after the
2006 coup that removed her brother, has a record of ruling
against parties linked to the former premier.
At the height of the protests more than 200,000 people took
to the streets to demand Yingluck's resignation and to try to
rid the country of the influence of Thaksin, whom they accuse of
The protesters want an unelected "people's council"
installed to oversee electoral changes that would, among other
things, prevent close Thaksin allies from running for office.
(Additional reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat and Chaiwat
Subprasom; Editing by Alan Raybould and Simon Cameron-Moore)