Thai government warns protesters as power struggle deepens

Caretaker government warns of crackdown on rally sites to avert crisis

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 May, 2014, 4:45pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 May, 2014, 8:17am

Thailand's beleaguered government has warned people to stay away from anti-government protests, saying it had to step up security as the two sides in a lengthy political crisis squared off over who is running the country.

The caretaker government loyal to ousted prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra is clinging to power and to the hope of an election in July to restore its authority.

But the government's enemies deride its legitimacy and are calling on the upper house of parliament, the courts and the Election Commission to appoint a new prime minister.

The head of the government team overseeing security during months of demonstrations against Yingluck and her brother, ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, said protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban's call for a new leader was illegal.

"We would like to warn all Thais to stay away from the protest sites as we have to tighten our security forces in a bid to avert a crisis," Tharit Pengdit, chief of the Department of Special Investigation, said yesterday.

We would like to warn all Thais to stay away from the protest sites
Security chief Tharit Pengdit

Protesters have used guns and grenades to resist police efforts to clear them off the streets and the government has generally sought to avoid confrontation.

But Tharit's warning could be a sign that the government is feeling increasingly embattled, especially after Yingluck's sacking by the Constitutional Court for nepotism on Wednesday, and is trying to assert its authority.

The sometimes violent protests against Yingluck and Thaksin have sapped investor confidence in Thailand and frightened off tourists.

A day after Yingluck and nine of her cabinet members were thrown out of office, she was indicted by an anti-graft agency for negligence over a rice subsidy scheme that ran up big losses. The Senate is expected to impeach her for that, which could result in a ban from politics.

But Yingluck's Puea Thai party still runs the caretaker government and it is hoping to organise an election, tentatively scheduled for July 20, that it would probably win.

Thaksin or his loyalists have won every election since 2001. But his enemies say he is corrupt and buys votes and they want an appointed "people's council" to oversee electoral rule changes to thwart the Shinawatras.

The rival supporters are staging sit-in protests at various places in Bangkok, raising fears of violence. Two anti-government protesters were injured in a suspected grenade blast on Saturday night outside the prime minister's offices, which have been vacant for weeks.

Yingluck's "red shirt" supporters have denounced her removal as a judicial coup and have warned of a tough reaction if their caretaker government is ousted.

The Senate is due to hold a special session today to discuss the crisis.