Pro-government rally raises possibility of violence in Thai power struggle

November 30, 2008

Constitutional Court decision may be best hope for defusing ugly situation

Thailand (ChattahBox) — Declaring their love of democracy, thousands of supporters of the Prime Minister   rallied in Bangkok yesterday, stoking fears of violent clashes with militants who have held the international airport since last week and brought the region’s busiest hub to a standstill. Dressed in red shirts to differentiate themselves from their yellow-clad foes in the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the pro-government supporters :rallied for the first time in the six-day stand-off. Some waved Thai flags and wore headbands reading simply “Thaksin”, while others had “No Coup” on their red headbands.

The protests came after several grenade attacks against the fiercely royalist anti-government People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which injured as many as 52 people and raised fears of open violence in Thailand’s worst political crisis in decades. PAD guards, armed with staves and clubs, have blocked roads into Suvarnabhumi – Thailand’s main airport – checking identification before allowing access. Egged on by speeches from its leaders, the group said that it would “fight to the death” before surrendering Suvarnabhumi.

This latest power struggle comes about a year after elections restored Thailand’s democracy, after the military ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a bloodless overthrow. The PAD claims that the current government is a proxy for Mr. Thaksin, who has fled the country to escape corruption charges. Thailand has endured 21 coup attempts since becoming a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

The current Prime Minister, Somchai Wongsawat, the leader of the ruling People Power Party, has refused to step down as demanded by the PAD. He has instead moved the seat of government to the relative safety of the northern city of Chiang Mai, a stronghold of government support. With Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang airports at a standstill for more than five days, pressure is on the Government to find a solution, salvage Thailand’s tourism industry and find a way to assist as many as 100,000 stranded tourists, including perhaps thousands of Britons, to return home.

Openly hinting that he fears a military coup, Mr Somchai is awaiting a Constitutional Court decision – perhaps as early as tomorrow – that may dissolve his party if it is found guilty of vote-buying charges. If the verdict is guilty, as expected, Mr Somchai and other PPP executives would be forced to resign because they would be banned from politics for five years. The King’s birthday speech scheduled for Thursday might also push either side into giving way. Polls showed that 60 per cent of Thais did not support either side.

Meanwhile, thousands of hot and weary tourists, desperate for a flight home, crowded into U-Tapao military airbase, 90 miles south of Bangkok, which has been pressed into service. It has a small terminal with one X-ray machine and two sets of wheeled air-steps.


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