Thai PM vows to do whatever it takes ‘to bring peace back’

Protest leaders refuse to negotiate and say they will seize Bangkok police headquarters

Thai anti-government protesters help an injured demonstrator as they try to reach the Metropolitan Police Bureau in Bangkok. Photograph: Narong Sangnak/Epa

Thai anti-government protesters help an injured demonstrator as they try to reach the Metropolitan Police Bureau in Bangkok. Photograph: Narong Sangnak/Epa

Tue, Dec 3, 2013, 01:00

Thailand’s embattled prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, has vowed to do whatever it takes to “bring peace back to the Thai people” after protests continued yesterday in the capital Bangkok, where at least four people have been killed and 200 injured in a 10-day push to overthrow the government.

Protest leaders, however, stressed they would not negotiate and promised to seize Bangkok’s police headquarters, which they see as a proxy of Yingluck’s administration. Fighting between protesters and police took place there all day.

The man leading the demonstrations, Suthep Thaugsuban, a former opposition lawmaker, has issued Ms Yingluck an ultimatum to “return power to the people” by Tuesday. He and his Civil Movement for Democracy (CMD) aim to overthrow the democratically-elected government and install a “people’s council” manned by unelected representatives with the king as head of state. The CMD believes Ms Yingluck’s administration to be a puppet of her brother Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister who was ousted in a 2006 military coup and now lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai and London.

Seemingly contradicting an interview she gave the BBC last week, in which she said she would neither step down nor hold early elections, Ms Yingluck told a press conference “the government is not trying to cling to power”.

“I am not against either resignation or dissolution of parliament if this solution will stop the protests,” she added.

“If there’s anything I can do to bring peace back to the Thai people I am happy to do it. The government is more than willing to have talks, but I myself cannot see a way out of this problem that is within the law and in the constitution.”

Protesters have said they are unwilling to negotiate and will only back down once the “Thaksin regime” has been fully overthrown. In a televised address last night, Mr Thaugsuban vowed to fight as long as need be, even alone, until Ms Yingluck had been removed from office.

“They can always come back to suck the blood of people, steal from people, disrespect the constitution and make us their slaves,” he said in an apparent reference to the Shinawatra family.

While protests have taken place throughout the week around Bangkok, primarily in relation to a proposed amnesty bill that would have paved the way for Mr Shinawatra’s return from exile and squashed his corruption conviction. However, the violence only really began on Saturday when pro-Shinawatra redshirts fought with anti-government student demonstrators near a sports stadium. At least four people have been killed and over 200 injured since.

Yesterday, much of the violence centred on Government House, the seat of the prime minister’s offices, and police headquarters. Protesters threw rocks, bottles and home-made explosives at police in riot gear, who retaliated with water cannon and rubber bullets, and faced a standoff after protesters used rubbish trucks and bulldozers to try to breach barriers.

Doctors at a Bangkok hospital confirmed that two patients had been treated for gunshot wounds from live rounds, although it was not clear who the gunmen were. Thai police insist they are using rubber bullets only, and Ms Yingluck’s government has taken great pains to use as little force against protesters as possible.

Although Mr Thaugsuban has claimed that the military is on his side, Ms Yingluck told the nation that the military was acting neutrally and “wants to see a peaceful way out”.

“I believe that no one wants to see a repeat of history, where we saw people suffer and lose their lives,” she said.

The political violence is Thailand’s worst since the 2010 demonstrations that saw 2,000 injured and nearly 100 killed in a military crackdown.
– (Guardian service)