Tue, Dec 03, 2013 - Page 1 News List

Thai PM appeals for halt to protests, but will not resign

VIOLENCE:Protesters used bulldozers and garbage trucks to attack barriers at government offices, while police used tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets

AP, BANGKOK

A Buddhist monk yesterday puts on a gas mask as riot police use water cannons and tear gas while anti-government protesters attempt to remove barricades outside Government House in Bangkok.

Photo: Reuters

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra yesterday said she is willing to do anything it takes to end violent protests against her government and restore peace, but cannot accept the opposition’s “unconstitutional” demand to hand power to an unelected council.

Yingluck’s comments, broadcast in a televised news conference, highlighted the unusual political deadlock Thailand finds itself in with no clear solution in sight even as violence on the streets continues to rise.

As Yingluck spoke from the heavily guarded national police headquarters, street battles between protesters and police that started over the weekend intensified.

Protesters commandeered garbage trucks and bulldozers and tried to ram concrete barriers at Government House and other key offices. Police struggled to repel them by firing tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets, as protesters shot back explosives from homemade rocket launchers.

The protests aimed at toppling Yingluck’s government have renewed fears of prolonged instability in one of Southeast Asia’s biggest economies and comes just ahead of the peak holiday tourist season.

At least three people were killed and more than 200 injured in the past three days of violence, which capped a week of massive street rallies that drew crowds of more than 100,000 at their peak.

“If there’s anything I can do to bring peace back to the Thai people I am happy to do it,” Yingluck said, striking a conciliatory, but firm tone.

“The government is more than willing to have talks, but I myself cannot see a way out of this problem that is within the law and in the constitution,” she said.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, who met with Yingluck on Sunday night, has said he will not be satisfied with Yingluck’s resignation or new elections.

Instead, he wants an unelected “people’s council” to pick a new prime minister who would replace Yingluck, even though she was elected with an overwhelming majority.

His demand has been criticized by many as undemocratic.

“I don’t know how we can proceed” with Suthep’s demand, Yingluck said in the brief 12-minute news conference. “We don’t know how to make it happen. Right now we don’t see any way to resolve the problem under the constitution.”

She cited Suthep’s repeated statements that he would not be satisfied even if she steps down to end the deadlock, and implied that she was willing to hold fresh elections if that helps.

“I am not against either resignation or dissolution of parliament if this solution will stop the protests,” Yingluck said. “The government is not trying to cling to power.”

The protesters, who are mostly middle-class Bangkok supporters of the opposition Democrat Party, accuse Yingluck of being a proxy for her brother, former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. He was deposed in a 2006 military coup, but remains central to Thailand’s political crisis, and is a focal point for the protester’s hatred.

The protesters, who call themselves the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, say their goal is to uproot the political machine of Thaksin, who is accused of widespread corruption and abuse of power.

Yesterday’s violence took place around key institutions — the Government House, the parliament and Metropolitan Police Headquarters in the historic quarter of the capital.

The area has some of Bangkok’s main tourist attractions such as the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, the Bangkok zoo and the backpacker area of Khao San Road.

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