Red-shirt threat to take to the streets raises tensions further in Thailand
Premier's supporters vow to defend upcoming elections as opposition snubs snap poll call
The red-shirted supporters of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said yesterday that they could take to the streets to protect the government from protesters who have forced her to call a snap election, setting the scene for a confrontation.
The warning by the "red shirts" highlights the risks ahead as anti-government protesters keep pushing to eradicate the political influence of Yingluck's brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, a hero in the rural north and northeast who was toppled by the military in 2006.
The United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, as the "red shirts" are known, threw their backing behind upcoming elections, warning that proposals from opposition demonstrators aimed at suspending the country's democracy risked "absolute dictatorship".
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister in the previous government that Yingluck's ruling party beat by a landslide in 2011, has ignored her call for a snap election to be held on February 2.
He wants Thailand to be governed by an unelected "people's council" made up of appointed "good people".
"If you choose Suthep's [Thaugsuban] side, you choose absolute dictatorship," red shirt leader Nattawut Saikuea said. "If you don't accept what Suthep does, you must cast a vote - this is not a mission for the red shirts alone, but the entire Thai people," he said.
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Thaksin is seen as the power behind Yingluck's government, which has huge support in the countryside, and any party associated with him stands a good chance of winning the election.
"When Suthep speaks he should bear in mind that there are millions of Thais who love Thaksin and love the Shinawatra family," said Thida Thawornseth, the senior UDD leader.
"Where does Suthep come off thinking he can speak on behalf of all Thais? Suthep has said Yingluck cannot go anywhere in Thailand without being insulted. What about him? He is the one who should be worried."
The comments from the redshirts suggest the protests could lead to a wider conflict if Yingluck's elected government is forcibly removed.
Asked what would bring them out on to the street, Jatuporn said: "When chaos ensues or when Suthep's side uses violent methods to gain power."
He said the aim was not to seek confrontation, but to show that the pro-Thaksin forces could bring out more people than Suthep.
After forcing the snap election on Monday, when 160,000 people massed around the prime minister's office, Suthep gave Yingluck 24 hours to step down. She is caretaker prime minister until the election.
After the deadline ran out on Tuesday night, Suthep said police should arrest her.
"I ask police to arrest Yingluck for treason because she did not meet our orders," he told supporters still camping out at Government House.
In his speech, Suthep urged the military, traditionally close to the royalists, to take control of government buildings in place of the police, who are closer to Thaksin, himself a former police officer.
Additional reportingby Agence France-Presse