Thailand’s government has been pushing for a top-level dialog for months to find a way out of its deep-seated conflicts, and grandees such as former British premier Tony Blair and Finland’s former leader Martti Ahtisaari converged in Bangkok Monday for an independently run talk-fest on how the country can move forward.
But there’s a problem.
So far, Thailand’s opposition parties have refused to participate in reconciliation talks, going as far as to accuse Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government of paying Mr. Blair 20 million baht, or $640,000, for his appearance fee at Monday’s forum – an allegation that both the government and Mr. Blair denied.
Thai lawmakers gave initial approval Thursday to a controversial bill to grant amnesty to people charged with political offenses during turmoil that began with a 2006 military coup.
The lower house of parliament voted 300 to 124 to accept the government-sponsored bill in principle after a two-day debate. Critics of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra fear it is an initial move toward allowing his return from overseas, where he fled to avoid jail after a conflict of interest conviction.
Opposition from outside parliament was unexpectedly weak, and fears of major clashes involving street protests were not realized. The fate of Thaksin, who was ousted by the coup after being accused of corruption and disrespect for Thailand’s revered monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, arouses fierce passions that sometimes have erupted into violence.
Meanwhile, The Guardian has a story on the protests, along with some analysis from Thitinan Pongsudhirak:
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, said the protests demonstrated a disenchantment” with the government but it was highly unlikely that they would overthrow it.
“The protest really is designed to unseat the government. But the anti-Thaksin coalition is not united, there is unlikely to be any intervention by the military or the judiciary, and there is not enough traction, not enough numbers [from the protesters], for them to really succeed,” he said.
The BBC has a video report, including remarks from former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
Authorities were confident they could easily handle the group of anti-government demonstrators still camping at Lumpini Park on Friday following the lifting of the Internal Security Act (ISA), saying they present no threat.
A prominent Thai activist and magazine editor was sentenced to a decade in prison Wednesday for defaming Thailand’s monarchy, a verdict rights groups condemned as the latest affront to freedom of expression in the Southeast Asian country.
Somyot Pruksakasemsuk was convicted of publishing two articles in an anti-establishment magazine that made negative references to the crown.
A Thai court on Wednesday sentenced a labor activist and former magazine editor to 10 years in prison for insulting Thailand’s king, the latest in a string of convictions under the country’s strict lese majeste law.
The case of Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, 51, was different from previous lese majeste cases because Mr. Somyot directly challenged the law itself, saying it violated the right to free expression.
A court in Thailand sentenced a magazine editor to 10 years in prison Wednesday for publishing two articles that prosecutors said defamed the country’s revered monarchy, focusing fresh international attention on both the way Thailand’s strict lese majeste laws are applied and the extent of the country’s gaping political divides.
A former Thai magazine editor was jailed for 10 years on Wednesday for insulting the royal family under the country’s draconian lese-majeste law, a sentence that drew condemnation from international rights groups and the European Union.
Somyot Prueksakasemsuk was found guilty of publishing articles defaming King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 2010 when he was editor of a magazine devoted to self-exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thai anti-government forces called off a rally yesterday aimed at toppling Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra because of a poor turnout after clashes left two police officers in critical condition.
“I quit,” Boonlert Kaewprasit, a retired general leading the demonstration, said in an interview after he called off the rally. “I told the truth. I needed a million people, but we were interrupted when police fired tear gas and blocked people from coming.”
Police said as many as 20,000 protesters attended the rally on a rainy day in Bangkok, short of the 500,000 that demonstration leaders had predicted. Boonlert had earlier threatened to storm Yingluck’s office complex after police used tear gas and detained about 100 people who attempted to breach a road block set up as part of crowd-control measures.
Protesters calling for Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to step down rallied in the heart of Bangkok on Saturday, clashing with police in the first major demonstration against the government since it came to power last year.
Organizers had spoken of mobilizing hundreds of thousands of supporters. But only around 10,000 turned up, and by dusk the leaders called the rally off.
Nevertheless, the tense gathering served as a reminder that the simmering political divisions unleashed after the nation’s 2006 army coup have not gone away. The coup toppled Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, triggering years of instability and mass-protests that have shaken Bangkok.
An antigovernment rally in Bangkok fizzled under tropical downpours Saturday, but the stench of tear gas wafting through the streets was a jarring reminder of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s struggle to escape the shadow of one of Asia’s most divisive politicians: her older brother Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted as prime minister in a 2006 coup.
Thailand will deploy thousands of police officers and has invoked a special security law for an anti-government rally Saturday that is expected to be the largest since Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra took office in 2011 and that officials fear could turn violent.
Authorities expect tens of thousands of protesters, a turnout that would serve as a sharp reminder of the deep political divisions in the country despite two years of relative calm.
Yingluck on Friday accused the protesters of seeking to overthrow her elected government.
The demonstration is being organized by a royalist group calling itself “Pitak Siam” – or “Protect Thailand” – at Bangkok’s Royal Plaza, a public space near Parliament that has been used by protesters in the past.
While the group is a newcomer to Thailand’s protest scene, it is linked to the well-known “Yellow Shirt” protesters, whose rallies led to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s overthrow. The same movement later toppled a Thaksin-allied elected government after occupying and shutting down Bangkok’s two airports for a week in 2008.
Thai police warned of a plot to abduct Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra as her cabinet approved using an internal security law to manage an anti- government rally scheduled for tomorrow.
“We have some worrisome intelligence that there may be violence when a lot of people gather,” National Police Chief Adul Sangsingkeo told reporters in Bangkok yesterday. “We are also very concerned about rumors about riots and the abduction of the prime minister.”
“Despite the noise, there appears to be little likelihood of any eruption, as the UDD red shirts have judiciously announced plans to give the protest a wide berth,” JP Morgan equity analyst Sriyan Pietersz wrote, adding that the political tension may damp overseas demand for Thai stocks.
Amid the buildup to the protest, Thailand’s national police chief Gen. Adul Saensingkaew alleged that investigators had uncovered a plot to abduct Ms. Yingluck and hold her hostage, although analysts said the claim and the imposition of the security laws, are typical of the heated atmosphere around large-scale demonstrations in Thailand. Other unsubstantiated rumors abound, including conspiracy theories that Mr. Thaksin’s opponents plan to fire on the protesters in order to discredit Ms. Yingluck.
“Stories of ‘third-hand’ plans to attack protesters or plans for protesters to ‘arrest’ Prime Minister Yingluck are part and parcel of emotional political events in Bangkok, and are more political drama than an actual threat,” Bangkok-based security consultancy PSA Asia said in a note to clients Thursday.
Confrontations between the red- and yellow-shirt groups are likely to intensify after yesterday’s clash outside the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) left scores of people from both sides injured.
The clash erupted around noon during a stand-off between red shirts and yellow shirts who had gathered outside the CSD.
Tensions escalated about 11am when a group of yellow shirts smashed the windshield of a truck belonging to red-shirt radio station FM90.25.
An ensuing scuffle left red-shirt member Visorndaeng Traisuwaan, 35, with a head injury.
A yellow-shirt member, Chatchai Sutheesopon, 48, who was accused of carrying a hand gun by the red shirts, also suffered a head injury after he was hit in the back of the head during the scuffle. Police who searched him later found no weapons on him.
The Post says the unrest began when yellow shirts gathered to support an ex-teacher who had accused a prominent red shirt, Darunee Kritbunyalai, of lèse-majesté. The red shirts, meanwhile, had assembled to support Darunee.
The story continues:
The ugly confrontation carried on for about two hours before supporters of Ms Manasnant began to retreat to nearby department stores, seeing they were outnumbered by red shirts whose numbers grew with new arrivals.
The stand-off ended about 3pm after the area around the CSD compound along with most of Bangkok was hit by heavy downpours.
You can see some photos and a video of the clashes in a Thai Rath video, which is embedded above and on YouTube here. Things heat up a couple of minute in. Thai Rath also has a story (in Thai) here.
A brief ABC Australia report puts the numbers of protesters at 200 per camp.
Elsewhere, a Bangkok Posteditorial headlined “Minor clash, strong message” says:
The confrontation, which culminated in a clash, appeared to be intentional. Both sides used their social media to advise their members for days about a scheduled meeting between a lawyer of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and Crime Suppression Division (CSD) officers on a defamation case.
“The situation was contained, but what will happen if the situation goes out of control next time,” said Thawee Surarittikul, a political analyst at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University.
“Both sides are waiting for an issue which could be a trigger point leading to a bigger protest,” he said.
The clashes seem notable to me in part because they involve red shirts and yellow shirts in direct confrontation. We often see these factions rallying separately, without engaging one another.