Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thailand: Update--30,000 Protesters Converge on Government House, Three Killed, 58 Injured

According to The Business Recorder, some 30,000 protesters launched a "people's coup" on Thailand's Government House (office of Prime Minister Yingluck Sinawatra, 46, on Sunday (December 1), forcing the PM to flee to a more secure police compound.

Yet, after a day of skirmishes between protesters hurling stones and "Molotov cocktails" against riot police firing back with teargas, the demonstrators failed to breach the heavily barricaded facility.

The protesters sowed chaos in one of Southeast Asia's largest cities, Bangkok, breaching a police barricade, seized seven police trucks and forcing the PM to move to an undisclosed location from a building where she had planned to give media interviews.

It is the latest dramatic turn in a conflict pitting Bangkok's urban middle class and royalist elite against the mostly poor, rural supporters of Yingluck and her billionaire brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, 64, a former prime minister ousted in a 2006 military coup. 
 
COMMENT: The PM's office urged people in Bangkok, a city of 10 million, to stay indoors from 2200 hours until 0500 hours.

Protesters massed in front of a police barricade outside Wat Benjamabhopit, also known as the Marble Temple. Police fired teargas as some tried to heave aside concrete barriers.

Outside the Metropolitan Police Bureau, about 3,000 protesters rallied, accusing riot-clad police of being manipulated by Thaksin, a former policeman who rose to become a billionaire and telecommunications magnate before entering politics and winning back-to-back elections in 2001 and 2005.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, 64, a former politician urged government workers to go on strike on Monday (December 2) and called on television stations to stop broadcasting state news.

Capping a week-long bid to topple Yingluck and end her family's more than decade-long influence over Thai politics, Suthep had urged supporters to seize government offices, television stations, police headquarters and the prime minister's offices.

Suthep, a deputy prime minister in the previous Democrat-led government that Yingluck's party beat in a 2011 election, told supporters they had occupied twelve government agencies and brought a million people onto the streets. 

Police said about 30,000 people joined the protest on Sunday, compared with 100,000 a week ago. Yingluck, who became Thailand's first female prime minister, has called for talks with the protesters, saying the economy was at risk after demonstrators occupied the Finance Ministry on Monday. Suthep has ignored her.

Thailand faces its worst political crisis since unrest in 2010, which ended with a military crackdown. In all, 91 people were killed then, mostly Thaksin's supporters trying to oust the then-Democrat government.

Thaksin, who won over poor rural and urban voters with populist policies, was convicted of graft in 2008. He dismisses the charges as politically motivated and remains in close touch with the government from his self-imposed exile in Dubai, sometimes holding meetings with Yingluck's cabinet by webcam. 

It is believed that the upcoming week will bring more spirited protests throughout the capital. Updated information on political unrest will be reported as it occurs.