The leader of Thailand’s anti-government protests held an emergency meeting with the country’s prime minister last night after daylong clashes between his supporters and police.
Suthep Thaugsuban insisted last night he would accept nothing less than prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s resignation and a new government of an appointed council.
In a defiant tone that drew cheers from his supporters, Mr Suthep said the meeting was held under the auspices of the military.
Police throughout the day fought off mobs of rock-throwing protesters who tried to battle their way into the government’s heavily-fortified headquarters and other offices. Mobs also besieged several television stations.
Skirmishes around Ms Yingluck’s office at Government House continued as darkness fell.
The protests have renewed fears of prolonged instability in one of South-east Asia’s biggest economies. Yesterday marked the first time police have used force since demonstrations began in earnest a week ago.
At least three people have been killed and 103 injured in skirmishes so far, according to police and the state’s emergency medical services. The deaths occurred at a Bangkok stadium.
Mr Suthep insisted to his supporters that the talk with Ms Yingluck did not constitute negotiations. The protesters had dubbed yesterday “victory day” but failed to attain their main stated goal of taking over the prime minister’s offices, despite engaging in pitched street battles.
Mr Suthep told followers it would take another two days for their goal to be reached. He earlier called for all public servants to take today off. Last week, protesters tried to disrupt government operations by besieging and occupying parts of several ministries and other government offices.
“If prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra listens to the people’s voices, we will treat her like gentlemen because we all are good citizens,” he said.
While a talk between the main protagonists would suggest a faint possibility of a peaceful settlement, it also would underline the traditional powerbroker role of the military, which could tumble the government even without a coup by refusing to let its forces help keep the peace. More than 2,500 military personnel were deployed yesterday in support of police.
Political instability has plagued Thailand since the military ousted Ms Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, in a 2006 coup. Two years later, anti-Thaksin demonstrators occupied Bangkok’s two airports for a week after taking over the prime minister’s office for three months, and in 2010 pro-Thaksin protesters occupied downtown Bangkok for weeks in a standoff that ended with parts of the city in flames and more than 90 dead.
Any further deterioration is likely to scare away investors as well as tourists who come to Thailand by the millions. It is also likely to undermine Thailand’s democracy, which had built up in fits and starts interrupted by coups.
The latest unrest began last month after an bid by Ms Yingluck’s ruling Pheu Thai party to push an amnesty law through parliament that would have allowed the return of her self-exiled brother, who was overthrown after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. Thaksin lives in Dubai to avoid a two-year jail term for a corruption conviction he says was politically motivated.