Mon, Feb 02, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Thai government dismisses ultimatum

DO AS YOU PLEASE A deputy prime minister said demonstrators were free to repeat Saturday’s mass rally, but the Democrat Party-led government would stay in office

AFP , BANGKOK

Demonstrators clash with soldiers during their march toward Government House in Bangkok late on Saturday.

PHOTO: AFP

Thai Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban yesterday rejected an ultimatum by thousands of protesters demanding the government step down, raising the prospect of more rallies in the turmoil-wracked kingdom.

Suthep, one of three deputy prime ministers, said supporters of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra were free to repeat Saturday’s mass rally, but said the new Democrat Party-led government would stay in office.

“This is not the time for the dissolution of parliament — people want the government to go ahead with administering the country,” he told reporters.

About 30,000 Thaksin sympathizers clad in their signature red shirts and waving banners reading “Bring Back Democracy” marched to Government House in Bangkok late on Saturday before dispersing.

Their main targets are figures in the six-week-old government who are linked to the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), a royalist group whose protest campaign last year helped topple the previous Thaksin-linked ruling party.

The so-called “Red Shirts” on Saturday forced their way through roadblocks manned by baton-wielding police and soldiers, as prolonged political tensions between deeply divided factions showed no sign of ending.

Protest leaders said they would return to the streets in 15 days unless Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya and other figures linked to the PAD blockade late last year of Bangkok’s two airports resign and were prosecuted.

They also called for the dissolution of parliament, new elections and the reinstatement of the 1997 constitution.

“The next rally will be bigger and it will not be a one-day protest — we will stay until we know who wins and who loses,” anti-government organizer Shinawat Haboonpad said.

Suthep said it was impossible to reinstate the previous constitution within 15 days and praised Kasit as doing a “good job.”

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, meanwhile, dismissed the protest manifesto as “old demands.”

“For the PAD, the legal cases are being processed,” he told Thai TV reporters at the World Economic Forum at Davos in Switzerland. “To propose using the 1997 constitution, there is a process through which they can propose their ideas. The other demands are political decisions — people are allowed to think differently.”

Government House was occupied for three months last year by the Red Shirts’ rivals in the yellow-clad PAD, whose leaders opposed links between the ruling People Power Party (PPP) and Thaksin. The PPP were elected in December 2007.

The PAD campaign peaked in late November, when they occupied Bangkok’s airports, a crippling siege which only ended when a court on Dec. 2 dissolved the PPP, allowing the Democrat Party to fill the void in a parliamentary vote.

Supporters of the PPP and twice-elected Thaksin — who despite being overthrown in a 2006 putsch and living abroad still wields great influence — decried the move as a “silent coup” and felt robbed of their democratic rights.

Abhisit further enraged the Red Shirts with the appointment of Kasit, a vocal PAD supporter, as foreign minister, while two other PAD sympathizers have been selected as government advisers.

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