Yingluck’s opponents pledge more protests

Published: 4:02 AM, December 19, 2013
Updated: 9:52 AM, December 24, 2013
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BANGKOK — Opposition supporters in Thailand said they will step up their protests to force Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office and push through electoral reforms before a general election is held.

The number of protesters camped on the streets of the capital has dwindled to about 2,000 over the past week but their leader, former Deputy Premier Suthep Thaugsuban, called for marches in central Bangkok today and tomorrow, followed by a big rally on Sunday.

“We will chase Yingluck out this Sunday after she made it clear she will not step down as caretaker Prime Minister,” he said late on Tuesday.

Mr Suthep gathered 160,000 protesters around Ms Yingluck’s office on Dec 9, when she called a snap election for Feb 2 to try to defuse Thailand’s political crisis. Ms Yingluck remains caretaker Prime Minister.

Mr Suthep has sought the backing of the influential military but has so far been rebuffed. The military — a frequent actor in Thai politics — in 2006 ousted Ms Yingluck’s brother, the self-exiled Thaksin Shinawatra when he was Premier.

“We will walk until the number of people who come out to join us outnumber those who elected Yingluck. We will march until the military and civil servants finally join us,” Mr Suthep told reporters.

A court had earlier this month issued an arrest warrant for Mr Suthep for “insurrection” over his attempt to oust Ms Yingluck but the police have not apprehended him, despite his appearance at a seminar with the military and other public events.

The Department of Special Investigation (DSI), Thailand’s equivalent of America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation, said yesterday it would ask banks to freeze the accounts of 18 protest leaders, including Mr Suthep, to investigate what it called “suspicious activity” — a sign the authorities might be taking a tougher stance. “We will investigate whether they are funding the protest or if suspicious transactions have taken place,” DSI Chief Tarit Pengdith told reporters.

Thailand’s eight-year political conflict centres on Thaksin, a former telecommunications tycoon popular among the rural poor because of his introduction of cheap healthcare and other policies while he was in office. The former Premier chose to live in exile after fleeing in 2008, just before being sentenced to jail for abuse of power in a trial that he said had been politically motivated.

Ranged against him are a royalist establishment that feels threatened by Thaksin’s rise, and, in the past at least, the army. The middle class resent what they see as their taxes being spent on wasteful populist policies that amount to vote-buying.

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