Bangkok protest leader calls for showdown

AP News
Posted: Dec 06, 2013 10:57 AM
Bangkok protest leader calls for showdown

BANGKOK (AP) — The leader of anti-government protests that have roiled the Thai capital acknowledged Friday that he did not have the numbers to overthrow the prime minister, and called for more followers to turn out for a massive Monday rally that he vowed would be the final showdown with authorities.

"We will only win if we have so many people that they can't hurt us!" Suthep Thaugsuban said in a speech, sounding almost desperate as he signaled an end to a truce called in honor of the king's birthday on Thursday. "Come out by the millions to overthrow the government!"

Protesters, however, are unlikely to mass in such numbers. By most estimates, fewer than 30,000 of Suthep's followers have joined most protests over the past two weeks.

He promised that Monday would be the last showdown with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's administration, though he has made such vows in the past.

"If you don't come out, we will have to accept our defeat," said Suthep, a former deputy prime minister facing an arrest warrant in connection with the protests. He promised to "walk into jail" if millions don't turn out.

He called on his followers to march through Bangkok to Government House, home of the prime minister's office, but did not urge them to seize control of the complex.

The city remained tense but calm Friday evening. Several days of violence that killed five people and wounded at least 289 ended abruptly Tuesday as both sides set aside their differences to honor King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who turned 86 Thursday.

The king is widely revered in a country sharply divided along social and political lines, and in a brief birthday speech he called for unity and stability. He did not directly mention the political turmoil, disappointing those who had hoped the visibly infirm king would use the occasion to broker peace, as he has in the past.

Although major celebrations ended Thursday, several more ceremonies are being held over the next few days to honor the king.

On Friday, government spokesman Teerat Ratanasevi said Yingluck has canceled overseas trips scheduled for December, including visits to Myanmar, Japan and Russia, so she could stay in Thailand and monitor the political situation.

Three men were injured in incidents late Thursday and early Friday, including one man shot in the arm at the Finance Ministry, which is occupied by anti-government activists. Major Gen. Piya Uthayo, a police spokesman, said the violence was the work of unidentified people trying to disrupt the protests.

The standoff results from years of enmity between supporters and opponents of Yingluck's brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption and disrespect for the king.

Thaksin, a billionaire with immense support among the country's poor rural residents, fled overseas to avoid a corruption conviction, but critics say he still controls Thai politics through his sister and his political machine.

The king's appearance renewed concern about his health and whether he physically is able to help heal the country's divide.


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