Friday, November 29, 2013

Thailand: Update on Demonstrations Against Amnesty Bill, Protesters Now Want Yingluck Out

According to Reuters, anti-government protesters briefly forced their way into the compound of Thailand's army headquarters on Friday (November 29) in a dramatic escalation of city-wide demonstrations seeking to topple Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, 46.

Protesters burst into the army base Bangkok's historic quarter, waving flags and blowing whistles. In another district, about 1,000 people massed outside Yingluck's ruling party headquarters, shouting "get out."

The invasion of army headquarters deepened a conflict broadly pitting the urban middle class against the mostly rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, 64, a former prime minister who was ousted in a 2006 coup and who remains central to Thailand's eight years of on-off political unrest.

The demonstrators left the headquarters peacefully after a few hours and late on Friday, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, 64, told his supporters to increase the pressure and target government buildings on Sunday (December 1), including the headquarters of city and police, four ministries and Government House, Yingluck's offices.

"Don't wait for anyone. Every heart that loves this country must stand up together and execute our mission as one," Suthep told a crowd of 7,000 massed outside a state office complex. "On Sunday, brothers and sisters, we will announce our victory and our defeat of the Thaksin regime," he shouted.

COMMENT: The protesters accuse Yingluck of abusing her party's parliamentary majority to push through laws that strengthen the behind-the-scenes power of her populist self-exiled, billionaire brother. They have rejected her calls for talks.

"We want the head of Thailand's armed forces to choose whether they stand by the government or with the people," Uthai Yodmanee, a protest leader, said from the back of a truck.

Yingluck has ruled out resigning or dissolving parliament, and appears intent on riding out the storm, in deference to her older brother.

Suthep, a deputy prime minister in the previous Democrat-led government, urged protesters to shut down a government office complex and surround the ministries of interior, education labor and foreign affairs, two state-run telecommunications firms and even the city's zoo.

Yingluck had governed for two years without a major challenge until last month, when her party tried to ram through an amnesty bill that would have expunged Thaksin's 2008 graft conviction and cleared the way for his political comeback.

The Senate rejected the amnesty bill and Yingluck then shelved it, but the protests escalated, switching from a campaign against the amnesty bill to an actual bid to bring down the Yingluck government.

The government's strategy is to seemingly marginalize the protesters and let them vent, rather than confront or arrest them, which would result in injuries, death or global headlines that would underline that Thailand is unstable, which is exactly what Suthep wants.

I still believe that Suthep will not go down without a confrontation.

This report will be updated as new information becomes available.