By Pairat Temphairojana and Jutarat Skulpichetrat
The Thai government said on Wednesday the leader of violent protests aimed at ousting the prime minister should surrender and face charges against him, including insurrection, ruling out further talks until he did so.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister, has dismissed the charges and vowed to press on with the protests after a pause out of respect for the 86th birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Thursday.
The protests are the latest eruption of a conflict that pits the Bangkok-based royalist establishment against mostly poorer Thais loyal to Yingluck and her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by the military in 2006 and lives in self-imposed exile.
Suthep, 64, a silver-haired politician from Thailand’s south who resigned as a lawmaker for the pro-establishment Democrat Party to lead the protests, wants a vaguely defined “people’s council” to replace the government.
Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, who is also head of a special internal security panel, said Suthep should give himself up.
“We will not hold further talks with Suthep until he surrenders himself to police,” Surapong told reporters. “It’s time for him to surrender because he broke the law and anyone who gives him refuge or shelter would be deemed guilty, too.”
The military, which has staged or attempted 18 coups in the past 80 years, has tried to mediate in the crisis and brought Yingluck and Suthep together for inconclusive talks on Sunday.
But after days of violence in which five people were killed, concern has grown that the military might step in to replace the government, on the pretext of restoring order.
Addressing those fears, navy chief Admiral Narong Pipathanasai said he and the heads of the army and air force had met on Wednesday and had no plans to intervene.
“Everyone agreed that the military forces will not take a leading role in this situation and there will be no coup as we believe the tension is easing and everything will be back to normal soon,” he told reporters.
“FIGHT EVERY DAY”
The government took the heat out of the confrontation on Tuesday, telling police to step aside and let protesters into state agencies they had besieged. That restored calm in time for the king’s birthday but Suthep said it was just a pause.
“We will start our fight again on December 6. We will start as dawn is breaking and we will fight every day until we get victory,” he told supporters in a speech late on Tuesday.
A crowd of protesters marched to the national police headquarters on Wednesday and got into its grounds but failed to get past interior barriers and later dispersed peacefully.
Recalling the fraternisation at state agencies on Tuesday, after exchanges of teargas and petrol bombs the day before, hundreds of female officers replaced riot police at the barricades and waved goodbye to the protesters as both sides chanted “Long live the king!”.
Protesters still occupy the Finance Ministry and a big administrative centre but the government is carrying on, with Yingluck meeting ministers at Government House, which had to be defended with teargas and water cannon this week.
Government spokesman Teerat Ratanasevi told reporters Yingluck had asked for measures to be drawn up to boost investment, create jobs and restore confidence.
Consumer confidence fell in November to its lowest level in almost two years as the demonstrators took to the streets to force the government to abandon a political amnesty bill that would have allowed Thaksin to come home, avoiding a prison sentence for abuse of power.
That, plus cancellations by tourists, could add to the problems of an economy struggling with weak exports.
However, Sampan Silapanad, president of the Electronic and Computer Employers’ Association, said disruption was minimal.
“There’s no immediate impact to business. Only a few workers face problems in terms of travel, which may be unsafe, so some firms have advised them to stay home,” he told Reuters.
If the protests were drawn out, some international firms might temporarily shift production to other countries and that could damage investor confidence over the long term, he said.
But for now, problems for association members such as Western Digital Corp and Seagate Technology Plc were nothing like those encountered during flooding in 2011, which cut supply lines and closed some factories for months.
The stock market dipped 0.5 percent on Wednesday after rallying on Tuesday as tension subsided. Traders said the baht was helped a little by the navy chief’s comments.