Bangkok braces for unrest

Govt rejects peace plan


The red-shirted supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra said they feared an imminent crackdown, and their leaders threatened more aggressive measures after rescinding an offer to end the protests if the government called elections in 30 days.

The stalemate rekindled fears of more unrest and a heavier toll on Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy as more retailers shut their doors and tourist numbers dwindled.

About 500 km north of Bangkok, hundreds of “red shirts” formed a roadblock in the northeastern Udon Thani province and stopped a convoy of 150 policemen from heading to Bangkok to strengthen security operations, a local official told Reuters.
The police retreated but the red shirts continued to block the road, the official said, raising questions over whether Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva can exert full control over rebellious parts of Thailand as the deadly protests enter a seventh week.
The army also have to deal with a rogue military element that supports the protesters and is allied with Thaksin, who was ousted in 2006 coup and sentenced to prison for corruption after fleeing the country.

Abhisit’s six-party coalition government is under intense pressure from upper class and royalist Thais to rebuff demands from the mostly poor “red shirts”. He stuck to an earlier offer to dissolve parliament and call elections in December, a year early.
Political change

“There must not be a precedent that allows intimidation to bring about political change,” Abhisit said in his weekly television broadcast on Sunday. “Thirty days is out of question. I don’t think this problem can be solved within 30 days,” he said.
He said the red shirts’ peace overture looked insincere, designed only to boost their image and could not be considered amid threats. The protests, he added, were taking a worsening toll on Thailand’s economy, Southeast Asia’s second biggest.
Hotel occupancy in Bangkok has crumbled to 20 per cent from about 80 per cent in February, squeezing an industry that supports six per cent of the economy. Some hotels near the main protest site have shut their doors entirely.

Taking those losses into account, Abhisit said he would soon scale back the government’s projection of 4.5 per cent annual economic growth this year.
Army chief Anupong Paochinda, sitting by Abhisit’s side, sought to downplay signs of a split in the armed forces, but he acknowledged for the first time some retired and active officers had joined the protest movement.

“Some of those involved in the deadly attacks are still in the military,” he said. “But on the division, any big organisation could have that,” he added.

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