Thai leader issues plea to end protests
BANGKOK (AP) — Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra issued a plea to protesters to end their street demonstrations after opposition leaders called for nationwide civil disobedience and a three-day general strike starting Wednesday.
It remained unclear whether the general strike would materialize. But Yingluck’s plea Tuesday indicated the government’s concern after daily rallies have threatened to end two years of relative political calm since she took office.
“I would like to ask the people to call off the protests,” Yingluck told reporters. “I am pleading for (protesters) to have patience. We don’t want to see any violence.”
The latest round of street protests in Thailand’s ongoing political crisis were triggered by a political amnesty bill that could have led to the return from exile of deposed former leader Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin is Yingluck’s older brother, and a polarizing figure who was ousted in a 2006 military coup and sentenced to two years in prison on a corruption conviction.
The ruling party withdrew its support of the bill following the protests, and the Senate defeated it 141-0 on Monday. Yingluck has said the government will no longer pursue it.
The protests, however, have escalated into a wider campaign to bring down the government. Separate demonstrations by pro-government groups have raised concerns of clashes.
Opponents of the bill, led by the opposition Democrat Party, vowed late Monday to continue their campaign.
“We will escalate our fight by inviting the people to rigorously carry out civil disobedience throughout the country,” Democrat deputy leader Suthep Thaugsuban said.
He called for a three-day closure of businesses and schools to allow people to join the strike; a withholding of taxes that allegedly are used for corruption; the display of the national flag; and the blowing of whistles, which have become a noisy tool of protest, near government leaders.
Suthep, a former deputy prime minister, and eight other party lawmakers resigned their parliamentary seats Tuesday to lead the anti-government campaign. The resignations are a legal shield for the party, which could face dissolution if its lawmakers were found guilty of trying to unlawfully unseat a constitutional government.
Thailand has been rocked by years of often-violent political conflicts that led to Thaksin’s ouster, which followed widespread demonstrations against him in Bangkok.
Disputes between Thaksin’s supporters and opponents arouse fierce passions which culminated in a 2010 military crackdown on his supporters that left about 90 people dead.
Although the latest protests are the strongest against Yingluck’s government, it is unclear if they are sustainable, especially in view of the overwhelming support that her government has in Parliament.
Associated Press writer Jocelyn Gecker contributed to this report.