Mon, Feb 06, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Anti-Thaksin protest attracts 60,000

THAIS UNHAPPY Tens of thousands of protesters joined a Bangkok rally calling for the resignation of the prime minister, angry over perceived corruption

AP , BANGKOK

A Thai demonstrator holds a sign with a play on words of `ample rich,' an offshore company that was once owned by Thaksin and is now owned by his children, during a protest against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in Bangkok on Saturday and yesterday. Sixty-thousand demonstrators converged to call for his resignation after his family's US$1.9 billion, tax-free sale of stock of Shin Corp to Singapore's Temasek investment company.

PHOTO: EPA

A leading critic of Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra ended a marathon anti-government rally early yesterday, telling thousands of supporters they had achieved victory in their fight to oust the premier over allegations of corruption and shady business dealings.

"Politically, we have killed Thaksin," publisher and protest leader Sondhi Limthongkul told the crowd, which had dwindled to about 12,000 weary protesters by the time the rally was called off at 8am.

"We have successfully organized this protest that was held peacefully and without any incidents," Sondhi said, adding another rally will be held on Feb. 11.

Police said the rally against Thaksin, which began on Saturday afternoon, had attracted about 60,000 people at its peak, though some local newspapers put the crowd at 100,000. It appeared to be Thailand's biggest political protest since 1992, when demonstrations toppled a military-backed government.

Some observers said the huge turnout should compel Thaksin to address allegations of widespread government corruption and his own ethical lapses.

"The fact that tens of thousands of people turned out to protest and shout slogans against Thaksin should unnerve him," said Vuthiphong Priebjrivat, a lecturer at several private universities. "Thaksin needs to be aware now that the stability of his government has been shaken."

During the rally, Information and Communication Technology Minister Sora-at Klinpratoom resigned without giving a reason. His resignation came a day after Culture Minister Uraiwan Thienthong stepped down, saying her decision was based on the need to uphold good governance.

But the government insisted the rally and the resignations would little affect the prime minister. The ministers were expected to be replaced anyway in an upcoming Cabinet reshuffle.

Some analysts have said rallies limited to the capital, Bangkok, wouldn't threaten Thaksin's government as long as they didn't spread to his rural base, where voters are concerned less with issues of corruption than with bread-and-butter issues like jobs and the price of daily goods.

"The protest has put serious pressure on the government," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a politics professor at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University. "But it has not reached the point where the government will collapse."

Sondhi, a former supporter of the prime minister, has been holding rallies almost weekly in the capital, accusing the government of widespread corruption and abuse of power.

But this weekend's rally was Sondhi's biggest so far, with teachers, students and business people joined by throngs of curious onlookers. Sondhi led the crowd in chants of "Thaksin Get Out, Thaksin Get Out."

Protesters, who mostly filled the Royal Plaza near Parliament and the Royal Palace, said they had grown tired of Thaksin's arrogant attitude, his disdain for the press and perceived disrespect for the monarchy.

The rally got a boost after the prime minister's family sold its controlling interest in Shin Corp, a telecommunications conglomerate, to a Singaporean government company for 73.3 billion baht (US$1.9 billion).

The deal drew outrage, mainly because it was structured to allow the sellers -- Thaksin's children -- to avoid paying any taxes, and placed important national assets in the hands of foreigners.

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