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Tactical truce reached in Bangkok
Publication Date : 04-12-2013
The anti-govt protesters plan next moves, and govt launches an academic forum to try to end impasse
The month-long political confrontation in Thailand came to a pause yesterday as the nation prepares for the King's birthday tomorrow.
In a televised statement, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra urged all Thais to unite, to show their love for the King, who will turn 86.
Yingluck said disagreements continued but she wanted to see all Thais, including the protesters, begin talks to try to provide real solutions.
"I would like to invite all Thais including academics, businessmen, protesters, and experts from all sectors to join the open forum to find solutions for political reform." She also called on the media to be constructive and avoid causing hatred.
The speech explained what happened in the morning. Police guarding two key strongholds - Government House and the Metropolitan Police Bureau - simply stopped their resistance against protesters attempting to breach barricade. This surprise move, caused an immediate halt to the growing list of casualties and caught all sides and pundits off-guard.
Meanwhile, Suthep Thaugsuban, in his capacity as secretary-general of the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), unveiled his plans for "national reforms" for the first time last night. He said these would start with the setting up of a People's Assembly, which would initially act as a legislative body to set up reform policies and promulgate necessary organic laws before selecting a prime minister.
Under Article 7, if there is no provision in the Constitution, then the issue shall be decided in accordance with the Constitutional practice of a democratic regime with the King as head of state.
Speaking last night in front of a large crowd of PDRC supporters, Suthep did not provide a timeframe for the process, but said it would be completed as soon as possible. This legislative body, or People's Assembly, would work out a master law to devise "people's reforms" and other laws, including those needed to regulate fair elections and anti-corruption efforts.
A non-politician would be selected as a prime minister to run an interim national government that would administer the reform policies, he said. The PDRC would, in the meantime, set up offices in all 77 provinces to accomplish the reforms.
Suthep went on to say that large-scale events with about a million people gathering to mark the King's birthday tomorrow would be held at all three locations occupied by PDRC protesters, including the Finance Ministry compound and Democracy Monument.
But vowing to continue fighting against the so-called "Thaksin regime", Suthep said PDRC gatherings would continue in Bangkok and elsewhere in the country.
Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, as the newly-appointed director of the government's Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order (CAPO), said the country would like to see what "Suthep's blueprint" is all about, and whether the general public would approve of it and in what way.
Bangkok police chief Pol Lt Gen Camronwit Toopgrajank said he made a decision to let the protesters enter the police compound, because he saw that protesters seizing many state offices around the country did not ransack or torch them.
At the police compound, protesters and police exchanged handshakes, embraces and took photos of themselves together.
Later, police were instructed to abandon their positions. Similar things happened at Government House. Some protesters entered and had lunch in the compound.
Interior Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan and Public Health Minister Pradit Sintavanarong later visited a number of people injured by police tear gas and projectiles at hospitals in another gesture of goodwill.
The two opposing sides looked relaxed yesterday. And the PM also appeared less tense. She was seen talking to Army commander General Prayuth Chan-ocha during an oath taking ceremony for the King at the Army Club tomorrow. Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban also looked happy to learn about the symbolic sieges. He even had an ice cream after lunch.
The public, however, as well as the huge number of supporters for both sides, remained left in the dark on whether these scenes were a tactical retreat by the government and whether the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) could really claim victory, at least for now.
However, the fight is not over. An hour after these gestures at both locations, Suthep made a statement proclaiming a partial victory and vowing to continue with his efforts to dislodge the so-called "Thaksin regime", calling on supporters, especially those who have travelled from the provinces, to remain in Bangkok.
Suthep, who has said he would not accept a House dissolution or resignation of the premier to end the protest, made it clear to the cheering crowds that the fight would continue to uproot both the regime and the government.
"Today we can enjoy our victory but it is only partial. Our fight will continue as (Prime Minister) Yingluck Shinawatra, her government and the tyranny of the Thaksin regime are still intact and effective," he said, in a statement in the Government Complex in Chaeng Wattana, still occupied by PDRC supporters.
He envisaged that if Yingluck resigns, her sister Yaowapa, or brother-in-law Somchai Wongsawat could take the reins. And that if she dissolves the Parliament, her party members would surely use any means to allow them to come back.
Caught in this impasse, Yingluck assigned Deputy Prime Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana and Justice Minister Chaikasem Nitisiri to open a forum and invite academics to discuss and help find a way out of the deadlock, government spokesman Teerat Ratanasevi said.
Phongthep said a law or charter amendment may be needed in order to create a solution. He said Suthep had mentioned a legal amendment. He said the forum may have a format similar to a political reform forum initiated by the premier in August.
To date, the protests have led to 4 deaths and more than 100 people being injured. Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn yesterday gave gifts to victims of the violence now in hospital, via her aides. Public Health Minister Pradit Sinthawanarong also apologised on behalf of the government for the casualties.
Director of the government's Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order Surapong Tovichakchaikul, who is foreign minster, made a statement saying that peace had returned and thanked all Thais for their cooperation, as well as police and soldiers for doing their duty.
The political crisis in Thailand has drawn much international attention. A week after a message of concern from the US, the European Union's head of delegation and heads of mission in Thailand issued a statement, hoping that all parties will find a peaceful way forward within the democratic and constitutional framework of Thailand.
"We were saddened to see the loss of life and the violent escalation of previously peaceful demonstrations during this weekend. We were also very concerned to see the occupation of public office buildings, television broadcasting stations and intimidation of the media. We believe that the response of the Thai authorities has so far been restrained and proportionate," the statement said.