Thai prime minister stays out of Bangkok as unrest intensifies

Yingluck Shinawatra says she has no plans to resign

Embattled Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was staying at a site 150 kilometres outside Bangkok on Monday as unrest in the capital intensified, but she said she had no plans to resign.

"It's time all sides turned to talk to each other," Ms Yingluck told reporters. "Many people have asked me to resign but I ask: is resignation the answer? What if it creates a power vacuum?"

Ms Yingluck is under pressure from all sides, and has not been seen in public in Bangkok since last Tuesday, when both anti-government protesters and farmers angry about not being paid under a rice subsidy scheme were tracking her and some of her ministers.

The protests have been punctuated by gunfire and bomb blasts.


On Monday night, a grenade was fired from an M79 launcher, apparently at the headquarters of the opposition Democrat Party, which is closely allied with the militant anti-government protest movement.

Sunday saw a bomb blast in a shopping precinct downtown. The six-year-old sister of a boy killed in that attack died yesterday, doctors said, taking the death toll to three.

The siblings, along with a five-year-old girl who died on Saturday in another attack on a rally site in the eastern province of Trat, are the first children to be killed in the current round of unrest, which has claimed at least 20 lives and injured more than 700 since November. Police have not arrested any suspects in the weekend attacks.

There is little sign of the unrest coming to an end any time soon.

The opposition, mainly composed of the Bangkok middle class and business interests, are trying to unseat Ms Yingluck, whose support base is in the rural north and northeast.

They want to ensure any possible attempt to return by her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who they see as the real power behind the government.

The protesters have occupied major intersections in Bangkok with protest camps, and boycotted this month’s general election.

They have also targeted businesses linked to Mr Thaksin, gathering outside a TV station managed by his son.

The country remains in limbo, with Ms Yingluck heading up a caretaker government. An Election Commission had said it will try to complete the election process in late April, but has since suspended that date pending a court decision.

As is usual during times of unrest in Thailand, attention turns to the army. It was the military which ousted Mr Thaksin in a coup in 2006 and it has staged 18 coups since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

However, the army has said it would not interfere.

"Somebody has to take responsibility but that doesn't mean soldiers can intervene without working under the framework (of the law)," army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha said in a televised address.

“How can we be sure that if we use soldiers, the situation will return to peace?”

The army intervened in 2010 during political unrest orchestrated by Mr Thaksin’s “red shirt” supporters. More than 90 people were killed and 2,000 wounded during the unrest and subsequent crackdown by troops.

Ms Yingluck was due to hold a cabinet meeting today and that would most likely take place outside of Bangkok, said Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul. Ms Yingluck is due to attend a corruption hearing in Bangkok on Thursday.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing