Thai government tells protest leader to quit and face charges

Concern growing in Bangkok that military may step in to quash demonstrations

 Thai anti-government protesters shout slogans during a massive rally in Bangkok today. Photograph: Rungroj Yongrit/EPA

Thai anti-government protesters shout slogans during a massive rally in Bangkok today. Photograph: Rungroj Yongrit/EPA


The Thai government today said the leader of violent protests aimed at ousting the prime minister should surrender and face charges against him, including insurrection, ruling out further talks until he did so.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister, has dismissed the charges and vowed to press on with the protests after a pause out of respect for the 86th birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej tomorrow.

The protests are the latest eruption of a conflict that pits the Bangkok-based royalist establishment against mostly poorer Thais loyal to Yingluck and her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by the military in 2006 and lives in self-imposed exile.

Mr Suthep, 64, a silver-haired politician from Thailand’s south who resigned as a lawmaker for the pro-establishment Democrat Party to lead the protests, wants a vaguely defined “people’s council” to replace the government.

Foreign minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, who is also head of a special internal security panel, said Suthep should give himself up.

“We will not hold further talks with Suthep until he surrenders himself to police,” Surapong told reporters. “It’s time for him to surrender because he broke the law and anyone who gives him refuge or shelter would be deemed guilty, too.”

The military, which has staged or attempted 18 coups in the past 80 years, has tried to mediate in the crisis and brought Yingluck and Suthep together for inconclusive talks on Sunday. But after days of violence in which five people were killed, concern has grown that the military might step in to replace the government, on the pretext of restoring order.

Addressing those fears, navy chief Admiral Narong Pipathanasai said he and the heads of the army and air force had met on Wednesday and had no plans to intervene. “Everyone agreed that the military forces will not take a leading role in this situation and there will be no coup as we believe the tension is easing and everything will be back to normal soon,” he told reporters.

The government took the heat out of the confrontation yesterday, telling police to step aside and let protesters into state agencies they had besieged. That restored calm in time for the king’s birthday but Suthep said it was just a pause.

“We will start our fight again on December 6th. We will start as dawn is breaking and we will fight every day until we get victory,” he told supporters in a speech last night.