Thailand’s military promised yesterday to “punish” anti-government protesters if they march on Bangkok’s central business district, heightening fears of more violence after bloody clashes left 24 people dead a week ago.
Red-shirted supporters of ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra said on Saturday they would take their protest to the financial district, two blocks away from their main downtown protest base, tomorrow, in defiance of an emergency decree.
“We won’t let them go anywhere further,” army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said.
Sansern stopped short of using the word “crackdown,” but said protesters occupying the plush shopping and hotel district for a 16th day would be dealt with.
“Let’s say that we are left with no choice but to enforce the law,” Sansern told TNN television. “Those who do wrong will get their punishment. Taking back the area along with other measures are all included in enforcing the law. All this must be done.”
An uneasy calm has prevailed in the capital over the Thai New Year holiday period in the wake of the country’s worst violence in almost two decades.
A heated confrontation between troops and demonstrators, who are demanding that Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolve parliament and step down, led to bloody clashes on April 10, the first outbreak of violence in the six-week protests.
Adding to concerns about more unrest, leaders of the anti-Thaksin Yellow Shirt movement — representing royalists, the business elite, aristocrats and the urban middle class — met yesterday to discuss their position on the crisis.
The Yellow Shirts staged a crippling eight-day blockade of Bangkok’s airports in December 2008, which stranded more than 230,000 tourists, disrupted trade flows and led to credit ratings downgrades for Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.
The siege ended when a pro-Thaksin ruling party was dissolved for electoral fraud, paving the way for Abhisit’s rise to power after a parliamentary vote the Red Shirts say was influenced heavily by the military in a “silent coup.”
Abhisit rebuffs claims his government is illegitimate and has refused to step down. He failed to deliver his regular televised address yesterday for a second week and has been uncharacteristically reclusive since last week’s clashes.
Several thousand protesters rallied yesterday at the Rachaprasong intersection, dubbed their “final battleground,” listening to speeches and huddling in the shade as the burning sun took its toll. More were arriving for a rally that typically draws tens of thousands by evening.
The planned protest tomorrow would target Bangkok Bank, Thailand’s biggest lender, which the Red Shirts have linked to the elite they say conspired to bring down elected governments backed or led by Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and fled into exile ahead of a graft conviction.
Protesters have taken aim at Prem Tinsulanonda, a former army chief, prime minster and honorary adviser to the bank, who serves as the top aide to Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Faced with criticism over the military’s handling of the protests, Abhisit appeared on television on Friday to announce that responsibility for security had been handed to army chief Anupong Paochinda, who retires in September and has been reluctant to tackle the protests.
“I think him passing responsibility to the commander-in-chief is his way of pushing him to actually do something, since he will be responsible for what happens now,” said Joshua Kurlantzick of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a US think tank. “I’m not sure it’s Abhisit trying to evade responsibility. He’s still going to have to face the consequences at the polls at some point.”
The seemingly intractable five-year crisis has fueled speculation that with the government and security forces in disarray, and concerns about clashes between rival demonstrators, hardliners within the military may decide to stage a coup to end the impasse, which analysts say would likely backfire.
FRENCH AID: Paris has sent a navy ship and aircraft from Reunion Island with some pollution control equipment, but rough seas are spreading the oil spill The operator of a Japanese bulk carrier which ran aground off Mauritius in the Indian Ocean yesterday apologized for a major oil spill, which officials and environmentalists say is creating an ecological disaster, as police prepared to board the ship. The MV Wakashio, operated by Mitsui OSK Lines, struck the reef on Mauritius’ southeast coast on July 25. “We apologize profusely and deeply for the great trouble we have caused,” Mitsui OSK Lines executive vice president Akihiko Ono said at a news conference in Tokyo. The company would “do everything in their power to resolve the issue,” he said. At least 1,000 tonnes of
Three Micronesian sailors stranded on a remote Pacific island have been found alive and well after a rescue team spotted their giant SOS message written into the sand on a beach. Australian and US military aircraft found the three men on tiny Pikelot island, nearly 200km west of where they had set off. Rescuers said that the men were “in good condition” with no significant injuries. The men had been missing for three days after their 7m skiff ran out of fuel and strayed off course. Authorities in the US territory of Guam raised the alarm on Saturday after the men failed to complete
A cat that went missing on a family holiday on the shores of Loch Lomond, Scotland, has been identified 12 years later. Tortoiseshell-and-white Georgie spent October half term in 2008 with her owners at the Rowardennan campsite, but vanished as they were due to return home to Greater Manchester, England. After a search of the site the Davies family departed without Georgie, hoping the three-year-old microchipped feline would be located by someone. Over the intervening 12 years, she remained close to the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park site, being fed and cared for by campsite staff and holidaymakers. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit and lockdown
LIFELONG LOSS: Jiro Hamasumi, who was not quite born when an atomic bomb hit Hiroshima, lost his father and other relatives, but said he thinks about his father daily As Japan marks 75 years since the devastating attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the last generation of nuclear bomb survivors is working to ensure their message lives on after them. The “hibakusha” — literally “person affected by the bomb” — have for decades been a powerful voice calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. There are an estimated 136,700 left, many of whom were infants or soon to be born at the time of the attacks. The average age of a survivor now is a little over 83, according to the Japanese Ministry of Health, lending an urgency as they share their testimonies