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Thai government told: Get out in three days

Police fire tear gas and a water cannon at antigovernment protesters. Picture: Reuters

Police fire tear gas and a water cannon at antigovernment protesters. Picture: Reuters

  • by THANYARAT DOKSONE
 

THAI police fired tear gas and water cannons to push back hundreds of protesters trying to force their way into a government compound last night, the latest indication that ousting the prime minister will not solve the country’s tense political crisis.

Five people were reported injured at the Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order, the government’s security command centre, where protesters tried to push down barbed wire-topped concrete barriers outside.

The incident occurred as more than 10,000 marched through the capital to show that the overthrow of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra by a court this week was not enough.

A protest leader warned they would retaliate if their demands for the government’s complete removal were not met within three days.

Anti-government protesters have been calling for years for the removal from Thai politics of the Shinawatra family – Ms Shinawatra’s brother Thaksin was overthrown in 2006 and fled to London and then Dubai.

Traffic was snarled around Bangkok as demonstrators marched to Government House, the prime minister’s main office, then parliament and surrounded several television stations.

They have called on stations to stop broadcasting government news and to air the protesters’ announcements.

“We won’t interrupt regular programming, but whenever we need to speak to people all over the country, we’d like to you to broadcast it live,” protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister, told a cheering crowd.

Yesterday’s marches came two days after Ms Shinawatra was removed by the Constitutional Court on grounds that she had illegally transferred a civil servant to another post. Her supporters and many analysts criticised the ruling as politically motivated.

The ruling has emboldened anti-government activists, who are backed by the country’s urban elite and have staged six months of vociferous and sometimes violent demonstrations calling for Ms Shinawatra’s overthrow.

After Wednesday’s ruling, the National Anti-Corruption Commission followed up on Thursday by indicting her on charges of dereliction of duty for overseeing a widely criticised rice subsidy programme.

Mr Thaugsuban demanded that the supreme court president, the senate speaker and the election commission, along with other state agencies, jointly worked to oust the government.

“We want the change of government to be smooth. But if you cannot do it smoothly within three days, we the people will do it in our own way,” he said.

Protesters want to install an appointed government to oversee reforms before elections are held, a concept criticised by many as undemocratic.

They oppose polls tentatively scheduled for July, which Ms Shinawatra’s allies would be likely to win.

The court rulings have angered Ms Shinawatra’s supporters, known as the Red Shirts, who have called for a rally today to show support for the government, which won a landslide victory in 2011 elections.

The competing rallies will be a test of the country’s political volatility. They will be held several miles apart but have raised concerns of violence.

Thailand’s long-running political crisis began in 2006 when Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted by a military coup after protests accused him of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Ms Shinawatra has been branded her brother’s proxy and protesters say they want to remove all traces of the politically powerful Shinawatras from Thai politics.

More than 20 people have been killed and hundreds injured in sporadic gun battles, drive-by shootings and grenade attacks since November.

A string of decisions by the courts and independent agencies against Ms Shinawatra’sadministration has erodedmany people’s faith in the rule of law.

 

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