31 March 2014

BANGKOK, Thailand -- The authoritarian leader of an increasingly
violent anti-government protest met Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra
on Sunday (Dec. 1) and told her to resign so a dictatorial provisional
regime could run Thailand and stop voters electing "bad politicians".



Hours earlier, the government advised Bangkok residents on Sunday
(Dec. 1) to stay indoors overnight after three people died and police
battled protesters, while mobs swarmed government ministries, TV
stations and police headquarters, escalating their week-long clashes
to topple the prime minister.



Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban "told the prime minister that
dissolution of parliament, and her resignation paving the way for new
election, could not resolve the underlying deep-rooted problem because
bad politicians" could return to power, Thai Public Broadcasting
Service (ThaiPBS) reported.



"He said the problem could be resolved only when she returned the
power to 'the people' to form the 'people's council' [which could]
appoint a 'people's government' to rule the country," the report said.



Suthep announced his ultimatum in a live TV broadcast at 10 p.m.
Sunday (Dec. 1) night.



The surprise meeting by Yingluck with Suthep was accompanied by
mecurial Army Chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha who played a role in a
bloodless 2006 coup against Yingluck's elder brother, then-prime
minister Thaksin Shinawatra.



The general appeared to be filling a power vacuum when earlier on
Sunday (Dec. 1) he told police not to fire tear gas at protesters,
urged demonstrators not to seize government buildings, and suggested
Yingluck meet Suthep.



Three people died and 100 were injured from gunshots and beatings
before dawn on Sunday (Dec. 1) when protesters fought government
supporters near a stadium, medical officials said.



"After 10 p.m. until 5 a.m., if it is not necessary, we ask people to
not leave their homes, for their safety, so they will not become
victims of provocateurs," Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Promnok said in
a televised announcement on Sunday (Dec. 1) night.



Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra refused demands to call an
election, apparently confident that Thailand's U.S.-trained but poorly
disciplined military supports her coalition.



Yingluck met security officials in a Bangkok police complex on Sunday
(Dec. 1) morning, but evacuated to safety when hundreds of protesters
stormed the complex's entrance before they were stopped -- apparently
unaware she was inside -- according to her secretary, Wim
Rungwattanajinda.



Yingluck, 46, appeared reluctant to use force to clear hundreds of
protesters squatting at a several government ministries, because she
does not want to provoke bloodshed.



Hundreds of protestors on Sunday (Dec. 1) hurled firecrackers and
rocks at police who responded with tear gas and water cannons,
stopping the mobs from attacking the prime minister's empty Government
House office, which is ringed with barbed wire and barricades.



Other protestors intimidated several TV stations into broadcasting
anti-government speeches and propaganda on Sunday (Dec. 1) night.



Protestors had mixed success with plans to lay siege on Sunday (Dec.
1) at Thailand's police headquarters and the ministries of foreign
affairs, commerce, interior, labor, and education plus other official
buildings.



The Finance Ministry and some other government offices however
remained under the control of protestors through the weekend.



The protests are led by graying, tough-talking Suthep Thaugsuban
(pronounced: "Soo-TEP Too-EK-soo-bahn"), a senior opposition Democrat
Party politician.



In November, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) charged Suthep
for alleged premeditated and attempted murders committed in 2010.



In 2010, when Suthep was deputy prime minister for security affairs,
he allegedly ordered his Center for the Resolution of the Emergency
Situation (CRES) to unleash a military crackdown against an
insurrection staged by pro-democracy Red Shirts, which left more than
90 people dead -- most of them civilians.



Suthep's current protest is backed by his former boss, the coy and
elitist Abhisit Vejjajiva, who leads the Democrat Party.



The OAG also charged Abhisit in November for the same alleged
premeditated and attempted murders committed in 2010, because Abhisit
established the CRES when he was prime minister before losing a 2011
election to Yingluck.



The OAG said it would indict both men on Dec. 12.



Suthep and Abhisit deny all charges of wrongdoing.



During the past week, Suthep's supporters swarmed the Justice
Ministry's Department of Special Investigation (DSI) -- Thailand's
version of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.



Protestors chained its doors on Saturday (Nov. 30) to prevent DSI
officials from working after the department recommended the OAG indict
Suthep and Abhisit.



Suthep, Abhisit and their Democrat Party candidates appear to be sore
losers unable to defeat Yingluck's ruling Pheu Thai -- "For Thais" --
party and its coalition in nationwide elections.



The protesters want to oust Yingluck because they perceive her as a
"puppet" of her self-exiled brother, former prime minister Thaksin
Shinawatra, whose popular, wealthy political machine boosts Yingluck.



Suthep announced last week he would stop his protests if he could
disband Thailand's democracy and become secretary-general of a
right-wing politburo "people's council".



His council would "pick a good man to be the prime minister, good men
to be ministers," Suthep said in a speech while occupying the Finance
Ministry.



Suthep, 64, is backed by a right-wing militant Buddhist organization
called the Dhamma Army, plus students, workers and others mostly from
Bangkok's middle class.



Against them are supporters of Yingluck and Thaksin, including the
mostly lower-class Red Shirts who helped Yingluck win at the polls.



The Reds expect Yingluck and her authoritarian, billionaire brother to
continue rewarding them with populist policies, including cheap
credit, health care, and rice subsidies.



The protests highlight the rise of Thaksin and his family's "new
money" backed by their wealthy cronies along with the grassroots Reds.



In some ways, they challenge the establishment's feudal, elitist,
military, royalist, "old money".



But the opposing sides share similarities, making the clash partly a
power grab by opportunistic rivals settling personal grudges and
betrayals.



Thaksin, who won three elections, was prime minister from 2001-2006
when he was toppled in a bloodless military coup.



Thaksin's political tentacles now influence Yingluck's administration from afar.



Thaksin wants to return to Thailand, but is dodging a two-year jail
sentence imposed by a post-coup court for a conflict of interest real
estate deal involving his politically powerful former wife.



Thaksin also wants the return of $1.2 billion in cash and assets which
another post-coup court seized because he profited from a tax-free
telecommunications deal.



Yingluck's government recently tried but failed to arrange an
"amnesty" to erase several years of politically-related criminal
charges and convictions against Thaksin and others.



Her government also recently failed in its bid to amend the post-coup
constitution which demands half the Senate be appointed in the
bicameral Parliament, and limits elected politicians and grants vast
powers to appointed judges.



This Buddhist-majority Southeast Asian country is a non-NATO ally of
the United States, and also enjoys good relations with China.


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Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco,
California, reporting news from Asia since 1978, and recipient of
Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He is a co-author
of three non-fiction books about Thailand, including
"Hello My Big Big
Honey!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing
Interviews; 60 Stories of Royal Lineage; and Chronicle of Thailand:
Headline News Since 1946. Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the final
chapter, Ceremonies and Regalia, in a new book titled
King Bhumibol
Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in Perspective.



His websites are:



Asia Correspondent



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(Copyright 2013 Richard S Ehrlich)