31 March 2014

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Violence worsened on Monday (Dec. 2) between
anti-government mobs using a hijacked bulldozer, fire engine, garbage
truck and homemade explosives to attack police who responded for the
first time with rubber bullets after the prime minister rejected the
insurrectionists' demands to cancel Thailand's elections and submit to
a dictatorial "people's council".



The Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against protest leader
Suthep Thaugsuban on Monday (Dec. 2) on charges of insurrection,
punishable by life imprisonment or death under the Criminal Code's
Section 113.



Insurrection under Section 113 includes anyone who "threatens to
commit an act of violence" to "overthrow" the government or "seize the
power."



Mr. Suthep responded on Monday (Dec. 2) night by taunting the police
to "catch him" and said they should defect to his side or else his
protesters would strip them of their uniforms.



"We will seize Bangkok's police headquarters" on Tuesday (Dec. 3), Mr.
Suthep told his protesters occupying offices in a government complex.



Mr. Suthep said the military, by contrast, would not hurt protestors
and could help them topple the government.



"The protesters' demands are impossible to meet under the framework of
the constitution," Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra calmly told a
news conference earlier on Monday (Dec. 2).



Ms. Yingluck met protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban on Sunday (Dec. 1)
night, and heard his demands that her popularly elected government
immediately undergo the civilian coup Mr. Suthep is trying to stage.



Their talks were held at an army installation and attended by Army
Chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha who played a role in a bloodless 2006
military coup which toppled Ms. Yingluck's brother, Thaksin
Shinawatra, despite Mr. Thaksin' three-time victory at the polls since
becoming prime minister in 2001.



The U.S.-trained, but poorly disciplined, military's role as mediator
between the prime minister and the protest leader indicated the army
held some advantages in running Thailand, compared with Ms. Yingluck's
vulnerable position.



"The military has positioned itself as neutral and it wants to see a
peaceful way out," said Ms. Yingluck, 46, a civilian who is also
defense minister.



At their meeting, Mr. Suthep demanded Ms. Yingluck resign, Parliament
be dissolved, fresh elections be banned, many "bad politicians" be
blacklisted -- including Ms. Yingluck, Mr. Thaksin and their
relatives.



Instead of Thailand's fragile democracy, an unelected "people's
council" be formed to appoint a "people's government."



Mr. Suthep's ill-defined council would "pick a good man to be the
prime minister, good men to be ministers," he said in a earlier speech
while occupying the Finance Ministry.



Mr. Suthep, 64, recently declared himself secretary-general of a
People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) to lead the protest, and
is a former opposition Democrat Party member of Parliament.



Mr. Suthep's supporters forced several government-run TV stations to
broadcast his propaganda on Sunday (Dec. 1) nationwide, prompting
complaints by Thai journalists about their loss of media freedom.



On Monday (Dec. 2), anti-government protesters seized a big red fire
engine and used the vehicle as a water cannon against police after
hijacking a garbage truck and yellow bulldozer which they tried to
drive at police barricades.



Mobs also attempted to cut electricity cables leading to key buildings.



The thousands of mostly young, angry men were trying to storm the
prime minister's vacated Government House office and nearby police
headquarters.



Police fired rubber bullets for the first time, plus tear gas and
water cannons, defending makeshift barriers of concrete and barbed
wire around the buildings.



More than 100 saffron-robed Buddhist monks reportedly suffered when
billowing clouds of tear gas wafted into their ornate temple, making
it impossible for them to walk out and collect their daily alms.



Earlier, at least three people were killed when protesters and
pro-government supporters fought each other in Bangkok's darkened
streets on Saturday (Nov. 30) night near a stadium.



There were no reports of deaths involving police battling the mobs,
but both sides suffered injuries from thrown objects, and a handful of
protesters suffered rubber bullet wounds.



Mr. Suthep, 64, has steadily lost public support during the past few
days of escalating brawls, after enjoying widespread support when the
protest began peacefully on Nov. 24.



Most businesses, shops, office workers, and government officials
ignored his repeated demands for a nationwide strike to shut down
Thailand on Monday (Dec. 2).



Protesters however continued to occupy the Finance Ministry and a
large government complex, enjoying its glistening facilities while
camping in tents and sleeping bags inside the lavish buildings.



Mr. Suthep's promise to stage peaceful protests also faced credibility
problems after Bangkok suffered from his supporters' street rage.



Ms. Yingluck's inability or unwillingness to order security forces to
clear the protesters from all government facilities is seen either as
her weakness in governing, or a costly way of maintaining the high
ground of trying to end the crisis without bloodshed.



Protesters meanwhile "plan to spray feces at police," to escalate
their fight, the Bangkok Post reported on Monday (Dec. 2).



"Demonstrators had fecal suction trucks ready to use against security
forces," it said, apparently describing vehicles that collect
excrement from Bangkok's septic tanks and sewers.



"Tourists need not be alarmed of the presence of security forces and
checkpoints in Bangkok," the government's Tourism Authority of
Thailand announced on Monday (Dec. 2), at the start of this Southeast
Asian country's lucrative tourist season.



"Security has been stepped up to prevent ill-intentioned people from
inciting violence," said the office which usually gushes about
Thailand as "The Land of Smiles."


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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)