BANGKOK, April 8 (Reuters) – Thai anti-government
protesters vowed to go ahead with a mass street rally on Friday
in defiance of an emergency decree imposed in the capital to
quell nearly a month of demonstrations demanding new elections.
A day after Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva imposed a
state of emergency, authorities blocked websites and shut down
an influential opposition television station, sparking a
scuffle between riot police and “red shirt” protesters.
By Martin Petty
Garbage heaps were piled up in front of plush shopping centres. Weary protesters sipped on coffee and tip-toed through a sleeping crowd. Pick-up trucks unloaded crates of water, food and energy drinks as demonstrators directed traffic around a makeshift stage. Police were nowhere to be seen.
Bangkok’s burning sun was starting to rise.
Mornings seldom make news in Thailand’s nearly month-long anti-government street protests. Rallies typically heat up in the evening when tens of thousands gather in Bangkok’s main shopping district to hear fiery speeches by protest leaders demanding elections. But the mornings offer a rare glimpse into the heart of a protest movement that has triggered a state of emergency in the Thai capital.
BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva faces a difficult choice — compromise and call an election he could easily lose or launch a crackdown on tens of thousands of protesters that could stir up even more trouble.
A state of emergency declared in Bangkok gives the army sweeping powers to detain or remove people without a court order after protesters stormed parliament on Wednesday and forced government officials to scale a wall and flee by helicopter.
BANGKOK (Reuters) – Protesters targeted Thailand’s elections watchdog on Monday, at one point storming its office, while ignoring orders to leave Bangkok’s main shopping district for a third day in an increasing bold rally to force elections.
The protesters in the election office later dispersed, but tens of thousands of the red-shirted demonstrators, supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, remained encamped in a district of luxury hotels and department stores.
BANGKOK, April 4 (Reuters) – More than 50,000 protesters
defied orders to leave the Thai capital’s main shopping district
on Sunday despite threats of mass arrests, raising the stakes in
the fourth week of street rallies against the government.
Despite repeated warnings they could face up to a year in
jail, the red-shirted protesters looked set to remain encamped
at a major intersection lined by upmarket department stores and
five-star hotels in the heart of Bangkok for a second night.
BANGKOK (Reuters) – Leaning on a fence in a makeshift open-air office in the heart of a three-week opposition street rally in Bangkok, protest leader Nattawut Saikua pauses when asked how long he’s willing to keep the protests going.
“However long it takes. We’ll stay here until we get the job done.”
By Ambika Ahuja
Anti-government protesters massing in Bangkok face a tricky question: continue with a non-violent strategy that emphasises peaceful protests and risk losing momentum or try a more provocative approach that could lead to a reprise of last April’s riots –Thailand’s worst street violence in 17 years – which discredited them.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who still enjoys strong support from the miltary’s top brass and the country’s establishment, rebuffed on Monday calls to dissolve parliament and hold fresh electsion. Protesters retreated to their main encampment on Bangkok’s streets.
BANGKOK, Feb 22 (Reuters) – Thai media say the country has entered a "seven-day danger period" before a "final showdown" on Friday. The military is on alert. Police checkpoints are spreading. Judges have been offered safe houses.
A Supreme Court ruling on Friday over whether to confiscate $2.3 billion of assets belonging to ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra’s family has put Thailand on edge, raising the risk of renewed unrest that could do more damage to Thai markets.
Media call it "judgment day" in a seemingly intractable political conflict pitting the military, the urban elites and royalists, who wear the revered king’s traditional colour of yellow at protests, against the mainly rural supporters of Thaksin, who say they have been disenfranchised and wear red.
A ruling in favour of seizing Thaksin’s assets could spark a violent backlash by his supporters. But regardless of which way the court rules, Thailand’s protracted political crisis is likely to rumble on, and remain a drag on investment and confidence.
"There is no good outcome because whatever the verdict is, there will be reaction from one political group or the other. We are in for a long and grinding battle," said Warut Siwasariyanon, head of research at Finansia Syrus Securities in Bangkok.
"Neither side is showing signs it can afford to compromise."
VIOLENCE ON THE STREETS?
The verdict will be read out on Friday afternoon and markets will probably be closed before they can gauge reaction to the ruling. They reopen on Tuesday after a long weekend, and will face selling pressure if violence has erupted or seems likely.
"The scenario that most people expect is that all of his assets will be confiscated and that there will be some backlash from the red shirts," said Danny Richards, economist and senior Asia Editor at the Economist Intelligence Unit.
"Investors don’t want to see this escalate into any major violence on the streets that would bring the army in."
But markets have had plenty of time to factor in Thailand’s higher risk level, and foreign investor participation in the local bond, currency and stock markets is fairly low, meaning the size of any sell-off next week may be limited — just as it was during previous flashpoints in 2008 and 2009.
Because confiscation of all his assets could be politically explosive, some analysts expect a compromise, with the court giving Thaksin back as much as $1.4 billion which his lawyers say was earned before he entered office and is owed his family.
"Seizing all the assets is still possible but it appears to be a very dangerous option and I think everybody knows why it is dangerous," said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.
"I think the judges are really considering the repercussions, so there might be some kind of compromise."
Such a decision could limit immediate fallout in markets.
"Partial seizure of the assets is what financial markets prefer because both sides can claim a victory, which will help limit the degree of violence," said Prapas Tonpibulsak, chief investment officer at Ayudhya Fund Management.
Thailand’s stock market <.SETI> has lagged regional peers this year, down 3.91 percent so far compared with a 1.21 percent drop in the Philippines, a 0.5 percent decline in Malaysia, and a 1.18 percent gain by Indonesian stocks. Dealers say political uncertainty is a key factor weighing on the Thai market.
The cost of insuring Thai sovereign debt — often used as a measure of political risk — has risen sharply this year. Five-year credit default swap spreads <THGV5YUSAC=R> hit a nine-month high of 135.18 basis points earlier this month but have since moved lower and were quoted at 114 on Monday.
"The verdict may be a critical turning point for Thai politics in the months ahead," Standard Chartered said in a research note on Monday.
It is also a critical moment for Thaksin, a 60-year-old former telecommunications tycoon who became the first leader in Thai history to win election twice, both in landslides, after building support in the vote-rich north and northeast.
His supporters say he revolutionised Thai politics with populist policies aimed at eradicating poverty, from universal healthcare to rural cash handouts. His critics accuse him of authoritarianism, corruption and of undermining the monarchy.
Friday determines the fate of assets frozen after he was ousted in a 2006 coup. Convicted of corruption and sentenced in absentia to two years in prison, he remains a political force, often rallying supporters via video link from self-exile in Dubai or taunting the government from across the border in Cambodia.
Anti-graft bodies and public prosecutors say Thaksin used government policies during five years in office to enrich his family’s telecoms business, Shin Corp. They have urged the nine-judge panel to confiscate every asset his family earned from selling shares in Shin to Singapore’s Temasek Holdings in 2006.
Thaksin’s lawyers say the case is politically motivated.
The political crisis has taken a toll on Thailand and its $264 billion economy, triggering frequent protests, riots, airport blockades, and three changes in government in 15 months.
"Red shirt" leaders say they have no plans to mobilise on Friday after holding almost daily protests nationwide this month, but they won’t stop Thaksin supporters from gathering outside the court and have called for as many as a million people to take to the streets sometime after the verdict to topple the government.
"We do not want to be seen pressuring the court to go one way or the other," said Jaran Ditsatapichai, a "red shirt" leader. "We will have to figure out a way to do it safely and in a way that can really paralyse the government."
Security agencies are taking no chances. Judges have been offered "safe houses". Military checkpoints have gone up. Soldiers and special police forces are on alert. The central bank asked commercial banks on Sunday to start tightening security.
The "red shirts" say that regardless of the verdict, they will continue a campaign to topple the government.
"I am not here fighting for Thaksin. I am fighting for democracy," said Siriwan Meesak, 60, a retired civil servant who was among about 1,000 "red shirts" who rallied outside Bangkok Bank’s headquarters on Friday, forcing it to shut its doors.
"Whatever the verdict, I will still protest." (Additional reporting by Ambika Ahuja and Viparat Jantraprap; Editing by Alan Raybould and Andrew Marshall)
BANGKOK (Reuters) – At 1.93 meters (6 ft 3 in) in height, Thailand’s finance minister often stands above the crowd. That’s even more the case after winning “Global Finance Minister of the Year” honors from The Financial Times’ Banker magazine.
But as British-born, Oxford-educated Korn Chatikavanij accepts the award at a Bangkok ballroom on Monday, he knows he has a tough job ahead in reforming Thailand’s convalescing economy and helping it expand at a time of political tension and rising anti-government protests.
PATONG, Thailand (Reuters) – Thousands of saffron-robed Thai monks chanted and prayed for victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami on Saturday as Asia marked the fifth anniversary of one of history’s worst natural disasters.
The gathering of monks in Ban Nam Khem, a small fishing village on Thailand’s Andaman Sea coast that lost nearly half its 5,000 people, was one of hundreds of solemn events across Asia in memory of the towering waves that crashed ashore with little warning on December 26, 2004, killing 226,000 people in 13 countries.