Thai PM under siege as lengthy protests take toll on economy

February 18, 2014 - 7:15:24 am
BANGKOK:  Protesters seeking to oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra surrounded Thai government headquarters yesterday in response to police efforts to clear them from the streets, as farmers besieged her temporary office to demand payment for rice.

Thailand has been in crisis since November, when Bangkok’s middle class and the royalist establishment started a protest aimed at eradicating the influence of Yingluck’s brother Thaksin, a populist former premier ousted by the army in 2006 who is seen as the power behind her government.

Data published yesterday showed the economy grew just 0.6 percent in the fourth quarter from the third and, with the country likely to be without a fully functioning government for months, the state planning board slashed its forecast for 2014.

About 10,000 anti-government demonstrators surrounded Government House in Bangkok, taking back control of a road the police had cleared them from on Friday in the first real sign of a pushback by the authorities after months of protests.  These protesters view Yingluck as a proxy for Thaksin, who has chosen to live in exile since 2008 rather than face a jail term for abuse of power handed down in absentia that year.

“We will use quick-dry cement to close the gates of Government House so that the cabinet cannot go in to work,” said Nittitorn Lamrue of the Network of Students and People for Thailand’s Reform, aligned with the main protest movement.

It was a symbolic gesture, Yingluck having been forced to work elsewhere since January.

Rice farmers helped sweep Yingluck to power in 2011, when her Puea Thai Party pledged to pay them way above market prices for their harvest, but the programme has run into funding problems and some farmers have not been paid for months. The country’s anti-corruption agency is investigating allegations that Yingluck, was negligent in her role overseeing the programme.

Television showed farmers climbing over barbed wire fences and barriers at a Defence Ministry compound where Yingluck has set up temporary offices. They pushed back riot police, who retreated from confrontation, but did not enter the building.     Reuters