Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Thai leader calls bluff of Thaksin’s red shirts

Thailand's prime minister has decided to call the bluff of tens of thousands of red-shirted protesters who have swamped the streets of Bangkok demanding the dissolution of parliament.

As the mass demonstration in Thailand's capital passed its third day, Abhisit Vejjajiva rejected the demonstrators' demands to dissolve the legislature by lunchtime and call new elections.

The protesters have now called on supporters to each donate up to 20 teaspoons of blood, which they plan to splatter on the parliament building in a symbolic act of political theatre.

“Asking for the dissolution of parliament before noon in exchange for a halt to the demonstrations, we all agreed it can't be done,” the Oxford-educated prime minister said on television. “However, it doesn't mean the government coalition parties and I won't listen to their ideas.”

Anywhere up to 100,000 protesters have descended on Bangkok in what they say is a battle for nothing less than Thailand's democracy. Many, though not all, are supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, now living in exile after being ousted in a 2006 military coup that was supported by many conservatives and senior members of the business community.

The demonstrators say that when Mr Abhisit took office in late 2008 he did so having been appointed by the parliament rather being popularly elected.

As a result, the demonstrators, calling themselves the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, say he has no popular mandate and it is only fair to call a fresh poll.

Mr Abhisit spent much of yesterday holed up in a military bunker while up to 40,000 security personnel were on stand-by.

On Sunday night Mr Thaksin, a former owner of Manchester City Football Club who now spends much of his time in Dubai, spoke with the growing crowds by means of a video link. Speaking from an undisclosed location, he urged the crowds to ensure their protest remained peaceful. So far that has been the case, though two soldiers were wounded when four grenades exploded inside an army headquarters ringed by the demonstrators. The authorities have not yet blamed the marchers for the incident.

“The people who caused the problems in the country these days are the ruling elites,” said the former premier. “To solve problems related to democracy, equality and justice — the ruling elites won't be able to do that because they don't have the conscience. The people will have to do it.”

Mr Thaksin draws particular support from the country's poor, whom he won over by a series of populist policies after he was first elected in 2001. Throughout his time in office he was dogged by allegations of corruption, and since going into exile has been convicted in absentia of abusing his position to help a business owned by members of his extended family. Recently the Supreme Court ordered that $1.4bn (£930,000) of his assets be seized.

The demonstration is the latest turmoil to rock Thailand since Mr Thaksin was ousted in 2006, when he was out of the country. During a Red Shirts protest last April, two people died and 120 injured during unrest in Bangkok.

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