Demon­stra­tors flood streets with vow to top­ple gov­ern­ment

Prime min­is­ter of­fers to ne­go­ti­ate amid peace­ful protests

The Washington Times Daily - - World - TODD PIT­MAN BY THANYARAT DOKSONE

BANGKOK | Flag-wav­ing pro­test­ers vow­ing to top­ple Prime Min­is­ter Yingluck Shi­nawa­tra took to the streets of Bangkok for a fourth day Wed­nes­day, mass­ing in the thou­sands at a half-dozen gov­ern­ment min­istries and rais­ing fears of fresh po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence.

The protests were peace­ful, and as night fell, the Yingluck ad­min­is­tra­tion still con­trolled ev­ery min­istry ex­cept the Fi­nance Min­istry.

“Whether we suc­ceed or not is not the most im­por­tant [thing],” said Taweesak Ma­ham, a 55-year-old Bangkok res­i­dent. “What’s im­por­tant is that the peo­ple in the coun­try came out this time to be un­der­stood, to sym­bol­i­cally show what the peo­ple want.”

In a city of some 10 mil­lion peo­ple, the demon­stra­tors ap­peared to num­ber in the tens of thou­sands — far less than the 100,000-plus mus­tered when they be­gan Sun­day. The num­bers in­di­cate they are un­likely to bring down the gov­ern­ment with­out more pop­u­lar sup­port.

By late af­ter­noon, throngs had massed in­side or around at least six of the gov­ern­ment’s 19 min­istries, al­though they left half of them af­ter a few hours.

One large group led by protest leader Suthep Thaug­suban en­tered a sprawl­ing gov­ern­ment of­fice com­plex that houses the Depart­ment of Spe­cial In­ves­ti­ga­tion, the coun­try’s equiv­a­lent of the FBI, and pre­pared to camp there overnight.

Ms. Yingluck re­peat­edly has of­fered to ne­go­ti­ate an end to the cri­sis. So far, se­cu­rity forces have not even fired tear gas to pre­vent pro­test­ers from forc­ing the clo­sure of mul­ti­ple gov­ern­ment of­fices.

“We must not re­gard this as a win-or-lose sit­u­a­tion,” Ms. Yingluck told re­porters at par­lia­ment. “To­day, no one is win­ning or los­ing, only the coun­try is hurt­ing.”

A Thai tourism of­fi­cial said the coun­try has lost 300,000 tourists so far, at a cost of a half-bil­lion U.S. dol­lars.

Late Tues­day, po­lice is­sued an ar­rest war­rant for Mr. Suthep, a for­mer law­maker. There ap­peared to be no at­tempt to de­tain him, how­ever, as he led 6,000 sup­port­ers Wed­nes­day out of the Fi­nance Min­istry, which had been con­verted into an ad hoc protest head­quar­ters since crowds stormed it Mon­day.

Many of the oc­cu­piers are from the coun­try’s south, Mr. Suthep’s home­land and the strong­hold of the op­po­si­tion Demo­crat Party.

Mr. Suthep says his goal is to re­place the gov­ern­ment with a non-elected coun­cil, a change he said is nec­es­sary to erad­i­cate the po­lit­i­cal ma­chine of for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Thaksin Shi­nawa­tra.

Thaksin, Ms. Yingluck’s bil­lion­aire older brother, was ousted in a 2006 mil­i­tary coup and fled the coun­try to avoid a prison term on a cor­rup­tion con­vic­tion. He con­tin­ues to di­vide the na­tion.

In broad terms, the con­fronta­tion pits the Thai elite and the ed­u­cated mid­dle class against Thaksin’s power base in the coun­try­side, which ben­e­fited from pop­ulist poli­cies de­signed to win over the ru­ral poor.

The anti-gov­ern­ment cam­paign started last month af­ter Ms. Yingluck’s rul­ing Pheu Thai party tried to pass an amnesty bill that crit­ics said was de­signed to ab­solve Thaksin and oth­ers of po­lit­i­cally re­lated of­fenses and al­low him to re­turn home. The Se­nate re­jected the bill in a bid to end the protests, but the ral­lies have gained mo­men­tum.

Suthep Thaug­suban, a for­mer deputy pre­mier lead­ing the protest move­ment, talks to anti-gov­ern­ment pro­test­ers out­side the gov­ern­ment com­plex in Bangkok.

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