03 May 2014

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Gunfire and explosions killed three civilians and
one policeman on Tuesday (Feb. 18) and injured more than 60 others
when anti-government protesters refused to remove barricades from
Bangkok's streets, pushing the death toll to 14 in confrontations
which have crippled Thailand since November.



The powerful National Anti-Corruption Commission meanwhile told
Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Tuesday (Feb. 18) to
appear on Feb. 27 to face allegations that she was negligent in a
massive rice subsidy scheme in which many farmers have not been paid
for their crops.



Those allegations could lead to criminal charges and a court case
against Ms. Yingluck, which the protesters hope will result in her
impeachment and the collapse of her popularly elected pro-U.S.
government.



She has denied all accusations of wrongdoing.



In the streets, police initially used truncheons, tear gas and rubber
bullets against protesters who hurled rocks and other debris while
defending barricades across a wide main street in front of Democracy
Monument near Phan Fa Bridge.



Protesters refused to clear their barbed wire, sandbags, car tires,
and construction blocks, and became increasingly violent, prompting
police to resort to live ammunition.



One Western photographer said he saw a protester with an assault
rifle, accompanied by a man who picked up the weapon's ejected bullet
cases, apparently to conceal evidence.



Nearby, a thrown grenade landed at the feet of police who were
cowering behind shields to avoid protesters' assaults.



One brave officer desperately tried to kick the grenade away, but the
explosion severely wounded his leg and injured several other police.



The horrific blast was shown on TV by the British Broadcasting Corp.
and other channels.



Police retreated at nightfall, unable to clear the barricades after
the clashes killed three male protesters and one policeman, and
injured more than 60 others, according to the Erawan Medical Center
which monitors hospitals.



Protesters also continued blockades around Ms. Yingluck's Government
House office, which have prevented her from working there for several
weeks, and also at the Interior Ministry and five key intersections
including a public park.



Police successfully cleared the besieged Energy Ministry on Tuesday
(Feb. 18) and arrested about 100 protesters.



The blockades have severely damaged the government's ability to rule,
but Ms. Yingluck's other major challenge is in the courts.



Judges and lawyers are probing her administration on allegations of
corruption and other possible violations.



To help rice farmers during the past two years, Ms. Yingluck's
administration created subsidies for farmers by promising to pay them
up to 50 percent more than international prices for their rice.



The government hoped to stockpile large quantities of rice until the
international price increased, and then sell the stored rice at a
profit, benefiting the farmers and the country.



The plan faltered when worldwide rice prices dropped and Thailand's
rice warehouses began overflowing amid allegations that farmers,
millers, traders and others were deviously maneuvering the stockpiles
to profit themselves.



Many angry, unpaid rice farmers are now considering joining the
anti-government protesters to force Ms. Yingluck's government out of
office, after banks were unable to secure loans on Monday (Feb. 17)
which could have allowed some payments to be made.



The anti-government protesters are led by Suthep Thaugsuban, a former
deputy prime minister for security affairs in the previous government.



"They are bloody dictators," Mr. Suthep said, denouncing the
government at a rally on Tuesday (Feb. 18) after the clashes.



"Even if she [Ms. Yingluck] runs away, we will hunt her down," Mr. Suthep said.



Mr. Suthep has been avoiding an indictment for alleged multiple
murders committed in 2010 when he and the military crushed a
nine-week-long pro-democracy uprising in Bangkok, which left more than
90 people dead, most of them civilians.



Mr. Suthep also faces a recent arrest warrant for "insurrection,"
punishable by life imprisonment or lethal injection, based on his role
in leading the current protests.



He vowed to continue destabilizing Ms. Yingluck's government until she
resigns and allows a "people's council" of 400 unidentified men to
rule Thailand.



He wants them to limit the power of elected politicians and increase
the domination of appointees in the government, courts, bureaucracy
and other institutions, to "reform" Thailand.



Ms. Yingluck recently dissolved Parliament's House of Representatives
and held an election on Feb. 2 to prove her popularity.



Mr. Suthep's protesters however forcibly blocked 10 percent of
Thailand's 93,000 polling stations, because Ms. Yingluck and her
candidates were expected to win.



The election results are in limbo until additional voting can be held
in disrupted regions.



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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)