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Thousands of Red Shirts gather in Bangkok

Publication Date : 11-05-2014


Decked out in red and camped out in the searing summer heat, thousands of pro-government supporters massed on Bangkok's western edge yesterday to try to shore up a caretaker administration faltering in the wake of street protests and legal setbacks.

"United to eliminate treason," declared a backdrop on their giant stage, in reference to anti-government protesters who have blockaded roads, sabotaged an election and occupied government buildings over the past six months.

Supporters of the "red shirt" United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) arrived from distant provinces yesterday, prepared to stay till the end of the month to keep watch against a coup that could topple their elected government.

Folk music blasted in the background as they bedded down on straw mats and headed for the mobile shower stalls.

Dozens of kilometres away, anti- government movement leader Suthep Thaugsuban said yesterday afternoon that the kingdom no longer had a prime minister and demanded the Senate and other government bodies pick a new government.

UDD chairman Jatuporn Prompan promptly shot back, asking these institutions not to break the law by agreeing to his demands.

"UDD will rally as long as the Suthep alliance makes unrealistic and unlawful demands," he told reporters.

The country has been on tenterhooks since caretaker premier Yingluck Shinawatra and nine other caretaker ministers were forced out of office by a Constitutional Court ruling last Wednesday.

One day later, Yingluck was indicted by the National Anti-Corruption Commission for negligence over a state rice purchase scheme. She now stands to be banned from politics for five years.

The remaining members of the caretaker Puea Thai party Cabinet are facing more legal challenges in the weeks ahead, as their opponents press on to engineer a political vacuum that would allow an appointed rather than elected government to come into power.

The crisis is part of a conflict that has dragged on for most of the last decade, after then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted by a military coup in 2006.

Critics say he plundered state coffers for political advantage. His supporters, mainly from the rural heartland, said he delivered on his campaign promises and opened their eyes to the power of their vote.

Thaksin lives abroad in self-exile to avoid a graft-related jail sentence, but parties linked to him have been returned to power repeatedly in elections.

His allies - including Yingluck, who is his sister - are up against the royalist elite and urban middle class, however. Thailand's courts have thrown out three Thaksin-related premiers in the past six years.

Thailand has been struggling without a House of Representatives since snap polls were called on Dec 9 last year, as the Feb 2 election was sabotaged and then later annulled by the charter court.

Last Friday night, the anti- government camp edged a bit closer to realising their goal of getting a "neutral" prime minister installed when a Senate Speaker of their choice, Surachai Liengboonlertchai, was elected.

The caretaker government, however, retaliated yesterday by saying it was looking into the legality of the Senate Speaker election.

With both sides headed for protracted legal tussles, analysts fear some parties may be tempted to stoke violence to bring a quick end in the form of a military coup. Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha yesterday again dismissed the idea, saying that soldiers would not bring a solution.

Still, the red shirts are treading carefully, warning their supporters against confrontation to deny the military an excuse to intervene.

But they could not, or perhaps did not want to, say what else they would do apart from staging rallies if the country's courts or Senate got together to appoint a new government.

All that one red-shirt leader, Cherdchai Tontisirin from Khon Kaen province, could tell The Sunday Times was: "The show is not finished yet."


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