Thailand warns people to stay away from protests
BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s caretaker government said Sunday that it would tighten security to prevent clashes that could arise between the two sides in an escalating political crisis, and warned people to stay away from protest sites for their own safety.
The announcement was broadcast on television as pro-government and anti-government protesters held competing rallies in Bangkok over the weekend. The two groups were several kilometers (miles) apart, but concerns of violence have risen following a court’s ouster of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra last week.
Senior security official Tharit Pengdit warned that if the anti-government movement carries out an attempt to appoint an unelected prime minister, it would ignite anger from government supporters that “could definitely spread to clashes and could eventually lead to a civil war.” The comment echoed one made a day earlier by the head of the pro-government Red Shirt movement.
“It is therefore necessary for CAPO to escalate law enforcement to a stricter level, to solve problems that will arise in the near future,” said Tharit, an executive for the government’s security Center of Administration for Peace and Order. “We are asking people to stay away from the protesters and ... to avoid the protest sites for their own safety.”
He did not specify how or where security would be tightened.
Two people were injured late Saturday when unknown assailants fired two grenades at Government House, the prime minister’s office compound, where anti-government protesters were camped, said police Col. Kamthorn Auicharoen. Officials vacated the compound months ago due to the protests launched against Yingluck in November.
It was the latest in a series of grenade attacks and drive-by shootings that have left hundreds of people injured since Thailand’s political crisis escalated in November. Both sides accuse the other of orchestrating the violence.
Anti-government protesters were emboldened by the Constitutional Court’s ruling Wednesday to dismiss Yingluck for nepotism, accomplishing what months of anti-government protests supported by the urban elite and royalists have failed to achieve. On Friday, the protesters ramped up their efforts to bring down what remains of Yingluck’s administration by laying siege to television stations, surrounding state offices and demanding lawmakers help them install a non-elected prime minister to rule the country.
Yingluck’s Cabinet has named deputy premier Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan as acting prime minister, but the leader of the anti-government protest movement, Suthep Thaugsuban, said Saturday that Niwattumrong “doesn’t hold the authority and status to be the head of the government.”
Suthep has asked the Senate to “quickly consult the presidents of the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Administrative Court and the Election Commission to work to appoint the new prime minister immediately.”
The Senate said it would hold an informal meeting Monday to discuss the crisis.
The anti-government protesters called Friday for a “final push” to oust the entire Cabinet and set up an unelected “people’s council” that they say would implement still-undefined reforms to combat corruption and fight money politics. They oppose elections scheduled for July, which the current ruling party would likely win.
Thailand’s long-running political crisis began in 2006 when Yingluck’s brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was toppled by a military coup after being accused of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Thaksin, a former telecommunications billionaire, remains highly popular among the rural poor in Thailand’s north and northeast, and parties controlled by him have won every national election since 2001. The anti-government protesters, aligned with the opposition Democrat Party, say they want to remove all traces of his political machine from politics.
Associated Press writer Jocelyn Gecker contributed to this report.