Thai police to rebuild barricades after opposition calls for more protests
December 8, 2013, 12:01 am TWN
BANGKOK -- Thai authorities said Saturday they would rebuild barricades around key state buildings in Bangkok after opposition protesters called for a final push to topple the government.
The kingdom remains tense following several days of street clashes between police and demonstrators seeking to overthrow Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and curb the political influence of her brother Thaksin.
After the clashes, during which riot police used tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets against stone-throwing demonstrators, the government ordered police to ease tensions by taking down barriers around key buildings including Government House.
But the barricades are set to be rebuilt ahead of a threat by anti-government protest leaders to turn Monday into “judgment day” for their efforts to overthrow the government.
“Police will erect barricades — especially around Government House and Parliament,” said Paradorn Pattnatabut, chief of the National Security Council.
Although the protests are “losing momentum” he said thousands of police would still be deployed on Monday.
“I am confident that there will be no violent incidents on Monday,” he said, expressing hope the five week stand-off could still be resolved through negotiation.
Firebrand protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, who faces an arrest warrant for insurrection, on Friday issued a rallying cry for a final push to overthrow the government.
Vowing to surrender to authorities unless enough people show up for Monday's rallies he said protesters would target the government's headquarters.
Suthep has repeatedly set deadlines for his movement, but protests have continued.
“If people turn out in their millions (on Monday) it's sure that things will change,” Akanat Promphan, Suthep's step-son and spokesman for the opposition protesters, told reporters Saturday.
He said he was concerned there could be “violent clashes and loss of life.”
Thailand has been periodically rocked by sometimes bloody unrest since Thaksin, a billionaire tycoon-turned-premier, was deposed by royalist generals in a coup seven years ago.
His sister's government has been shaken by weeks of rallies by protesters, a mix of royalists, middle class and other Thaksin opponents, attempting to unseat her and suspend the country's democracy in favor of an unelected “People's Council.”
The unrest has left five people dead and more than 200 injured in Bangkok.
Demonstrators and police in Bangkok have observed a temporary truce since Wednesday for the 86th birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who is treated as a near-deity by many Thais.
Thailand's political conflict broadly pits a Bangkok-based middle class and royalist elite backed by the military against rural and working-class voters loyal to Thaksin.
He went into exile in 2008 to avoid jail for a corruption conviction which he says was politically motivated, but critics say he still controls his sister behind the scenes.
The recent protests were triggered by an amnesty bill, since abandoned by Yingluck's ruling party, which opponents feared would have cleared the way for his return.
They are the biggest and deadliest street demonstrations since 2010, when dozens of people were killed in a crackdown on mass pro-Thaksin rallies in Bangkok.