Tue, Feb 25, 2014 - Page 1 News List

Thai army chief cautions nation nearing ‘collapse’

AFP, BANGKOK

Thailand’s army chief yesterday warned that the country risks “collapse” unless it pulls back from escalating violence after attacks in recent days left three children dead in the kingdom’s worst political unrest since 2010.

Twenty-one people have been killed and more than 700 wounded in violence linked to nearly four months of demonstrations against the government.

Protesters want to unseat Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and dilute the influence on Thai politics of her billionaire brother, former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who lives in exile to avoid jail for corruption.

“As days go by, there will be more violence until it cannot be controlled,” Royal Thai Army Commander-in-Chief Prayut Chan-ocha said in a rare televised live speech.

“If losses continue, the country will collapse for sure and nobody will win or lose,” he added.

Prayut urged reconciliation and talks. He said troops are “ready to do their duty,” but “do not want to use force and weapons to unnecessarily fight with the Thai people.”

He did not elaborate.

Thaksin supporters have accused the demonstrators of trying to incite the military to seize power in a country which has seen 18 successful or attempted coups since 1932.

The army chief’s comments are closely scrutinized for signs of possible intervention.

Yingluck has been staying outside Bangkok, but yesterday ruled out resigning despite the series of deadly attacks heaping pressure on her administration.

Yingluck, who attended a trade show in Saraburi Province, 100km north of Bangkok, called for dialogue to resolve the crisis.

“It’s time all sides turned to talk to each other,” Yingluck told reporters. “Many people have asked me to resign, but I ask: Is resignation the answer? What if it creates a power vacuum?”

Yingluck’s office would not confirm how many days she had been working outside the capital.

She was last seen in public in Bangkok on Tuesday last week, when both anti-government protesters and farmers angry about not being paid under a rice subsidy scheme were trailing her and some of her ministers.

She is due to attend a corruption hearing in Bangkok on Thursday.

Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs Surapong Tovichakchaikul said Yingluck would hold a Cabinet meeting today.

“It is highly likely that we will hold the Cabinet meeting outside of Bangkok,” Surapong told reporters.

The current unrest is the most severe in the bitterly divided kingdom since protests by the Thaksin-allied Red Shirts against a previous government in 2010 sparked clashes and a military crackdown that left more than 90 people dead.

Police said a brother and sister, aged four and six respectively, and a 59-year-old woman died after a grenade attack on Sunday afternoon at a Bangkok shopping district.

They said an officer also died yesterday, nearly a week after being shot in the head in a gunbattle with protesters in Bangkok’s historic center.

Attacks have mainly taken place in the Thai capital, although a drive-by shooting late on Saturday at a protest rally in Trat Province killed a five-year-old girl.

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