Thai protesters rally against PM after clashes

February 20, 2014 - 5:13:51 am

Anti-government protesters gather as Thai soldiers stand guard at a Defence Ministry compound serving as a temporary office for Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in north Bangkok yesterday. 

BANGKOK:  Protesters seeking to oust Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra rallied at her temporary office yesterday, but the premier stayed away from the potential flashpoint a day after five people were killed in gunbattles in Bangkok.

A senior security official said police would not attempt for now to retake more protest sites, after Tuesday’s “Peace for Bangkok Mission” saw the deadliest clashes since the anti-government demonstrations began in November.

A Thai court also yesterday ordered the government not to use force against peaceful protesters.  The ruling by the Civil Court could complicate Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s handling of more than three months of mass opposition protests, although her government had already pledged to avoid using violence against the demonstrators.

Problems continue to mount for Yingluck, after an anti-corruption agency filed charges against her over a soured rice subsidy scheme that has stoked middle class anger and left hundreds of thousands of farmers, her natural backers, unpaid. 

Yingluck, seen by opponents as a proxy for her brother, ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, has been working from a Defence Ministry compound in north Bangkok since the protests forced her to vacate her Government House office.

“We came here because we do not want Yingluck to use the Defence Ministry complex any more,” Chumpol Jumsai, a protest organiser, told around 3,000 supporters. “We’re asking soldiers to stop letting Yingluck use this facility.” 

Bluesky TV, the protest movement’s own channel, showed footage of troops guarding the building behind barbed wire. In contrast to Tuesday’s face-off with police, the atmosphere was not confrontational and protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban was allowed inside to speak to senior soldiers.

A spokesman for the military, which has said it would intervene if police were unable to maintain security in the capital, earlier appealed for both sides to avoid confrontation.

“Our strategy has not changed and is still to provide support to police,” Colonel Werachon Sukondhapatipak said. “We have no intention of deploying extra troops.”

The military has remained aloof from the latest crisis, but has a long history of intervening in politics, generally in support of the Bangkok establishment that includes the top brass, royal advisers and old-money families.

Violence flared on Tuesday as police made their most determined effort since the start of the protests to reclaim sites around government buildings occupied for weeks.

The Erawan Medical Center, which monitors Bangkok hospitals, said yesterday that one police officer and four protesters had been killed and 65 wounded. The death toll had earlier been put at four. 

Police said they arrested more than 180 people for violating a state of emergency declared last month. A court was due to rule later on a challenge filed by protest leaders to the legality of that emergency degree.     Agencies

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