April 24, 2014
Thai crisis deepens as PM's supporters weigh in
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's red-shirted supporters said they were ready to defend her government in the streets from an elite-backed protest movement seeking to install an unelected "People's Council".
The warning highlights the risks of a crisis centred on the electoral and legislative power of the Shinawatra family, revered by the rural and urban poor but reviled by Bangkok's royalist elite as inept and graft-ridden.
The turmoil has veered from violent protests in which five people were killed and more than 300 wounded to occupations of government buildings and, in recent days, bewildering statements by Suthep Thaugsuban, a veteran politician who quit the mainstream opposition to lead the protesters.
He has called on police to arrest Yingluck for treason, ordered civil servants to report to him and called for citizen "peacekeeping forces" to take over from police. He told the army and police chiefs to report to him.
"We have set the time of 8 p.m. Thursday as our deadline to meet with security heads," he told reporters.
It is unclear if they will meet. Security forces have remained aligned with the government and missed deadlines have become the norm for a protest movement that has openly courted anarchy on Bangkok streets in hopes of inducing a military coup or judicial intervention to bring down Yingluck.
Suthep says parliament, now controlled by Yingluck's Puea Thai Party, should be suspended and replaced by an unelected People's Council made up of appointed "good people".
If that happens, the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), a red-shirted protest movement based largely in Thailand's populous north and northeast, would rally to Yingluck's side, said Jatuporn Promphan, one of its leaders.
"It is the UDD's job to bring together en masse the red shirts and those who love democracy and don't agree with Suthep's methods. There will be many more people than Suthep managed to gather," he told during an interview.
Suthep says his People's Council would eradicate the influence of Yingluck and her billionaire brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup and has lived in self-exile since 2008 to avoid jail for corruption, a charge he says was politically motivated.
Thaksin has remained a powerful force from abroad, sometimes convening cabinet meetings by webcam from his villa in Dubai
Struggling to defuse the crisis, Yingluck dissolved parliament on Monday and called an election for Feb. 2. But the protesters, aware her party would almost certainly win on the back of rural support in the country of 66 million people, say they do not want elections.