x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Thai PM rejects protester demands for her to quit as clashes rock Bangkok

Bloodshed in the Thai capital in recent days is the worst political violence in the country since a deadly 2010 military crackdown on pro-Thaksin 'Red Shirts'.

BANGKOK // Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Monday rejected protesters’ demands for her to quit, as police issued an arrest warrant for “insurrection” against the protest leader amid renewed clashes.

Police used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon against rock-throwing demonstrators as they strengthened their defence of key government buildings, after weekend unrest in the capital left several dead and more than 100 wounded.

The protests, aimed at unseating the elected government and replacing it with a “people’s council”, are the latest outbreak of civil strife to rock the kingdom since royalist generals ousted Thaksin Shinawatra, Ms Yingluck’s brother, seven years ago.

The bloodshed in the capital in recent days is the worst political violence in Thailand since a deadly 2010 military crackdown on pro-Thaksin “Red Shirts”.

It has also raised fears of damage to the economy and particularly the lucrative tourism sector as the peak season gets under way.

In her first televised address since the weeks-long protests descended into violence late on Saturday, Ms Yingluck said she could not yield to the demands of the rally leaders because they would breach the country’s laws.

“Anything I can do to make people happy, I am willing to do ... but as prime minister, what I can do must be under the constitution,” she said, adding that she did not “cling to power”.

Ms Yingluck said she would have considered resigning or calling an election if protesters had not already ruled out these moves as insufficient. She insisted the government was open to “every option” to restore peace.

Later on Monday an arrest warrant for protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban was issued “for the charge of insurrection which shall be punished with death or life imprisonment”, said Chayut Thanataweerat, the deputy metropolitan police commander.

Thailand rarely uses the death penalty.

Mr Suthep, who faces another warrant over the occupation of government ministries, on Sunday issued an ultimatum for Ms Yingluck’s government to be ousted in two days.

He demanded power be handed “to the people” at a secret meeting with the prime minister in the presence of the army, navy and air force commanders.

A deputy prime minister when the current opposition party was in power, Mr Suthep has rejected elections and said he wanted to root out the “Thaksin regime” – a reference to the former premier who is widely seen as the power behind Ms Yingluck’s government.

Mr Thaksin, a billionaire tycoon-turned-politician, is hated by the elites, Bangkok’s middle class and southerners, who have massed in the capital in recent days and accuse the ousted leader of corruption and threatening the monarchy.

But he is adored by many outside Bangkok, particularly in his stronghold in the nation’s north and north-east. He or his allies have won every election for a decade.

Ms Yingluck, whose party stormed to power on a wave of support for her brother at elections in 2011, said on Monday that any solution to the crisis would have to be “acceptable to the majority”.

She has kept a low profile during the unrest, a move some analysts see as an attempt to avoid further inflaming the demonstrators.

But officials confirmed the increased use of force on Monday as protests intensified.

“There are rubber bullets used today,” said Paradorn Pattanatabut, secretary general of the National Security Council.

Clashes continued into the evening as police fought to defend barriers at the prime minister’s offices and city police headquarters against crowds who have besieged several key ministries.

A doctor at a hospital near Government House said it was treating two men – one in a critical condition – with wounds from live rounds. It was unclear who shot them.

* Agence France-Presse