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Yingluck rejects call to step down

Publication Date : 11-12-2013


A teary-eyed Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Tuesday urged anti-government protesters camped out around her office to stop their street rallies as she rejected their call to step down before snap elections on February 2.

The premier had dissolved Parliament on Monday morning, just a few hours before more than 100,000 people marched on Bangkok's streets and converged at the government house - where her office is - in their bid to overthrow her Puea Thai party-led government.

At a rally on Monday night, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban demanded her resignation as caretaker premier within 24 hours, and urged all civil servants to report to protesters instead of the government.

Yingluck, at an army club on Tuesday where she held a Cabinet meeting, said: "I have backed down to the point where I don't know how to back down any further."

Since last week, she has repeatedly said she was open to resigning or dissolving Parliament if that could help solve the current political conflict. Protest leaders, however, reject any notion of an election because Puea Thai would almost certainly win again.

The protesters are seeking to rid Thailand of the "Thaksin regime", a reference to the undue influence that Yingluck's brother Thaksin Shinawatra is deemed to hold over the country. Instead, they have called for an unelected "people's council" to be led by a prime minister appointed by the king.

Thaksin is the former prime minister of Thailand who was ousted in a 2006 military coup after mass demonstrations, and currently lives overseas to evade a jail sentence for corruption. Asean's second largest economy was roiled by turbulence from then till 2010 as Thaksin's supporters and the pro-establishment anti-Thaksin groups vied for political dominance. The current unrest threatens to set the country back after two years of relative stability.

The protests started in late October after the Puea Thai-led coalition pushed through a bill that would grant Thaksin amnesty. Protests against the government continued to grow even after the party swiftly withdrew amnesty plans.

The protests are supported by the opposition Democrats, who quit Parliament en masse on Sunday to officially join the rallies.

Suthep himself was a senior Democrat member until he quit as MP in the middle of last month with eight of his colleagues.

Analysts expect a prolonged impasse as protesters try to pressure the government to give way to a people's council. On Tuesday afternoon, a few hundred protesters occupied the roads around the government house under the hot sun as workers set up tents for mass rallies.

Meanwhile, the political conflict is also dividing Thai academia. In response to the support for the protesters' demands by the Council of University Presidents of Thailand, a rival group calling itself the Assembly of the Defence of Democracy, in a press conference on Tuesday, alleged that the proposed people's council had its roots in fascism.

A representative of the group, Professor Thanet Aphornsuvan from Thammasat University, told The Straits Times: "There is corruption and nepotism. We need to reform, but we have to work inside the system."


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