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Thai red shirts to counter 'shutdown' attempt

Publication Date : 03-01-2014


Thai pro-government red shirts are planning to counter a major protest aimed at toppling the caretaker government, raising fears of confrontations as the stock market and baht fell to new lows on Thursday.

The Election Commission, which met on Thursday to discuss possible ways out after protesters prevented candidates in several southern provinces from registering for the February 2 snap polls, did not find any solution and will continue discussing today.

It had earlier suggested a postponement of the polls, which were called on December 9 after Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved Parliament to head off pressure from protesters. The idea was swiftly rejected by her caretaker government.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has called for protesters to converge on the capital to "shut down" Bangkok on January 13, the latest attempt in his two-month- long campaign to dislodge the caretaker government.

Earlier attempts involved taking over government ministries and disrupting the registration process for the polls widely expected to return Yingluck's Puea Thai party to power again.

The pro-government "red shirt" movement, which has largely stayed in the background to avoid confrontation during the last few weeks of street protests, announced Thursday that it would muster its forces against Suthep's latest move.

United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship chairman Thida Thawornset said it will hold rallies in north, north-east and central Thailand from the end of this week, leading up to a major rally on January 13, the day of the Bangkok "shutdown".

Thida told The Straits Times that the red shirts have not been wearing red in Bangkok to avoid confrontation with anti- government protesters.

But she did not rule out a major rally on January 13 being held in the capital itself. "We cannot avoid it right now. It's time we came out."

The prolonged political tension caused the benchmark SET Index to shed 5.23 per cent to hit a four-month low, while the value of the Thai baht fell to a three-year low.

The protesters, who are supported by the conservative elite, urban middle class and the opposition Democrat Party, want elections to be postponed pending political reforms that would neutralise the power of self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother.

Critics say this is a campaign by minority elites to override the wishes of the electorate, which has returned Puea Thai or other Thaksin-backed political parties to power over and over again.

Analysts fear that a confrontation by two political camps would lead to nothing short of civil war.

National Security Council chief Paradorn Pattanatabut on Thursday said Thailand's security agencies were considering declaring a state of emergency.


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