Thai protesters give ultimatum, intensify rallies

Updated: 2014-05-09 14:08


Thai protesters give ultimatum, intensify rallies

An anti-government protester waves a national flag in front of riot police officers and soldiers guarding the entrance of the National Broadcast Services of Thailand (NBT) television station in Bangkok May 9, 2014.[Photo/Agencies]

BANGKOK - Thousands of protesters marched through the Thai capital on Friday to show that the prime minister's ouster by a court ruling is not enough, and warned they will retaliate if their demands for the government's complete removal are not met within three days.

Yingluck's Puea Thai Party still runs the interim government and is hoping to organise a July 20 election that it would probably win, but the protesters want the government out, the election postponed and reforms to end the influence of Yingluck's brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Traffic was snarled around Bangkok as protesters marched to Government House _ the prime minister's main office _ and surrounded several public television stations "to ask for cooperation'' in stopping broadcasts on government news.

The rally came two days after Yingluck was removed by the Constitutional Court on grounds that she had illegally transferred a civil servant to another post. Yingluck supporters and many analysts criticized the ruling as politically motivated.

The ruling emboldened anti-government protesters who are backed by the country's urban elite and have staged six months of vociferous and sometimes violent demonstrations calling for Yingluck's ouster.

Their leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, demanded that the Supreme Court president, the Senate speaker and the Election Commission, along with other state agencies, jointly work to oust the current government within three days.

"We want the change of government to be smooth. But if you cannot do it smoothly within three days, we the people will do it in our own way,'' Suthep said.

The court rulings have angered Yingluck's supporters, known as the Red Shirts, who have called for a huge rally Saturday to show support for the government, which won a landslide victory in 2011 elections.

The competing rallies will be a test of the country's political volatility. They will be held several kilometers (miles) apart but have raised concerns of violence.

Thailand's long-running political crisis began in 2006 when Yingluck's brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted by a military coup after protests accused him of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Yingluck was criticized as Thaksin's proxy and protesters say they want to remove all traces of the politically powerful Shinawatras from Thai politics.

"Hand power back to the people,'' Suthep told a cheering crowd at Bangkok's Lumpini Park. He called on protesters to keep the rally peaceful but also urged them to surround police cars. In the past, the protesters seized government offices, stormed television stations and cut electricity to several ministries.

More than 20 people have been killed and hundreds injured since November in sporadic gunbattles, drive-by shootings and grenade attacks.

Suthep called Friday's rally a "final offensive,'' a declaration mocked by some Thai media, which noted this was the 11th time in six months he has summoned supporters for a final protest.

After Wednesday's ruling that removed Yingluck, the National Anti-Corruption Commission followed up Thursday by indicting her on charges of dereliction of duty for overseeing a widely criticized rice subsidy program.

That ruling means Yingluck will face an impeachment vote by the Senate, though it is not clear how Yingluck could be impeached from an office she no longer holds.

A consistent string of decisions by the courts and independent agencies such as the anti-graft commission against Yingluck and her political machine has eroded many people's faith in the rule of law, raising the possibility of heightened civil unrest. Grenades were fired Thursday night by unknown people at three targets associated with the royalist establishment.

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