Thai violence eases ahead of king's birthday
By JINDA WEDEL and TODD PITMAN (AP)
December 4, 2013, 2:31 pm TWN
BANGKOK (AP) — Protesters intent on toppling Thailand's democratically elected prime minister plan to press their struggle again Wednesday with a peaceful march on Bangkok's national police headquarters, one day after a sudden truce in honor of the king's birthday this week ended a spate of increasingly fierce street fighting.
The pause in violence came suddenly Tuesday, when Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra ordered police to end their resistance against masked mobs who had begun attacking their positions beside her office compound with homemade rocket launchers and petrol bombs.
The move was timed to coincide with celebrations of the king's birthday this week, a holiday that holds deep significance in the Southeast Asian nation. It was widely seen as offering demonstrators a face-saving way out of a crisis that has killed four people and wounded more than 256 since the weekend.
But protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban vowed to keep up what has become an audacious struggle to overthrow Yingluck and keep her brother, deposed former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, from returning to power.
"You can rest assured that this is a victory that is only partial ... because the tyrannical Thaksin government endures," Suthep said.
He said that after a Thursday truce, "our battle" will begin again early Friday.
Yingluck's rivals accuse her of being a puppet of Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup and lives in Dubai to avoid a corruption conviction he says was politically motivated. His overthrow touched off a societal schism that has plagued Thailand ever since.
In broad terms, the conflict pits a poor rural majority which largely backs the Shinawatra family against an urban-based elite. The latter camp draws support from the army and staunch royalists who see the Shinawatras, who have won over rural voters with populist policies designed to benefit them, as a corrupt threat to their business interests and the monarchy.
Protesters argue that Yingluck came to power through her billionaire brother's money and vote-buying, charges the ruling party denies. Suthep insists Yingluck must cede power to an unelected council, but Yingluck has rejected that demand, which many political observers and Thai academics say is absurd and a threat to the country's nascent democracy.
Yingluck's Pheu Thai party was elected with an overwhelming majority in 2011 and is currently unbeatable at the polls.