Protests aimed at overthrowing Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra
are in their fifth month but at the weekend the remaining activists
closed down several big protest sites and moved to a central Bangkok
The protests are led by Suthep Thaugsuban, once a senior member of
the main opposition Democrat Party, which boycotted a general
election last month.
"If Suthep continues with his protest and there are more violent
incidents, including grenades thrown, shootings and acts of violence
by provocateurs, the emergency law will have to stay until the
situation improves," Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul told
"We will wait for security forces, the army and the cabinet to
decide before the emergency expires on March 22," he said.
The government imposed the 60-day emergency in Bangkok on January 21
in a bid to contain the latest unrest in an eight-year conflict that
broadly pits Bangkok's middle class, southern Thais and the royalist
establishment against mostly rural supporters of Yingluck and her
brother, ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
The protests began in November with attempts to occupy government
buildings and spread in January when major roads in the capital were
blocked. Those roads reopened on Monday after most of the protesters
withdrew and regrouped in Lumpini Park.
The protesters have lost faith in elections, which parties of the
populist Thaksin keep on winning, and want to change the political
system to end the influence of the former telecoms tycoon whom they
accuse of being a corrupt crony capitalist.
Thaksin has lived abroad since 2008 to avoid a jail term for a graft
conviction he says was politically motivated.
Labour Minister Chalerm Yoobumrung, in charge of enforcing the state
of emergency, said the protests were unlikely to end soon and the
demonstrators were banking on intervention by courts widely seen as
hostile to Yingluck to bring her down.
"The protests will go on for a while because Suthep has not reached
his target ... but I don't believe he can reach his goal so
demonstrators are waiting for some sort of intervention by
independent organizations," Chalerm told reporters.
READY TO MOBILIZE
Yingluck faces several legal challenges, the most immediate coming
from charges of negligence relating to a disastrous rice subsidy
scheme that has run out of funds, prompting unpaid farmers to
demonstrate in Bangkok.
She has been given until March 14 by the National Anti-Corruption
Commission to defend herself. It will then decide whether there is a
case to pursue and, if it goes ahead, she may be forced to step
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Her caretaker government has only limited spending powers but,
providing some relief, the Election Commission approved the use of
20 billion baht ($614 million) from the central budget on Tuesday to
help pay rice farmers.
As of February 27, the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural
Cooperatives, which manages the rice scheme, had paid farmers 67.5
billion baht for rice bought during the main 2013/14 crop from
October, with 112 billion baht outstanding.
Some farmers are demanding that the scheme, which ended on February
28, be extended as they still have rice to sell.
The Commerce Ministry has said that could not be done until a new
government is in office, which may be months away because the
February 2 election was inconclusive because of disruption by
At least 23 people have been killed in the unrest since November 30,
including four children in Bangkok and the eastern province of Trat.
Hundreds of people have been injured.
The violence is the worst since 2010 when Suthep, at the time a
deputy prime minister, sent in troops to end demonstrations by
pro-Thaksin "red shirt" activists.
Suthep faces murder charges related to the crackdown. More than 90
people were killed during that period of unrest.
Thaksin's supporters, largely based in the north and northeast, have
threatened to defend Yingluck if she is removed from power, adding
to fears of civil strife.
Thanawut Wichaidit, a spokesman for the red shirts' United Front for
Democracy against Dictatorship, said the group had practised over
the weekend how to mobilize people in the northeast to get down to
"We rehearsed how to move large groups from one city to another to
warn anti-government forces not to do anything that destroys
democracy. The elite have killed red shirts like pigs and dogs in
the past and we'll make sure they never do that again," he told
($1 = 32.5650 baht)
(Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Pairat
Temphairojana; editing by Alan Raybould and Robert Birsel)
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