Sunday, 21 February 2010

Thailand prepares for violence ahead of verdict on Thaksin Shinawatra assets

via CAAI News Media

February 21, 2010
Anne Barrowclough

Thousands of police and soldiers were out on the streets of Bangkok today in a show of strength ahead of the much anticipated verdict on the $2.2 billion fortune of ousted Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Prime Minister of Thailand called for calm, Supreme Court judges were assigned guards and foreign embassies issued travel warnings as fears grew of a violent backlash if the assets of the opposition leader-in-exile are frozen on Friday.

Mr Thaksin's supporters, the "Red Shirts", have said they will hold mass protests if the court doe not rule in Mr Thaksin's favour, but insist that any action will be non-violent.

"We will wait and see what the court says, but any injustice will bring about a phenomenon," Red Shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan said. The government "underestimates the Red Shirts", he added.

Mr Abhisit said a judicial review should be treated with respect or the on-going conflict between the opposing political factions would never come to an end.

However his government has been accused of stoking anxieties by casting the Red Shirts as a dangerous force in a bid to take the focus off the fragile governing coalition.

At least 20,000 extra security personnel have been deployed across Bangkok and pro-Thaksin regions, including around the homes of judges, politicians and government and commercial institutions.

Last week a bomb was defused near the Supreme Court and a grenade exploded at government offices, prompting the United States, Britain and Australia to warn people visiting Bangkok to exercise caution.

The government has announced it will cede control of security to the army and even declare an emergency if necessary, but says it hopes to control the situation.

"We hope that the security measures that we have put in place can handle the instability or incidents that can cause violence," government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said.

An intelligence expert and political observer said the Red Shirts were unlikely to instigate violence even if a court ruling did not favour Mr Thaksin.

Phummarat Thaksadipong, former director of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), said that a strong alliance between the government and the military was enough to keep pro-Thaksin elements at bay.

"Even if the court rules to seize all the assets, the red shirt group will not incite violence," Mr Phummarat told the Bangkok Post newspaper."They are aware those who start it will lose and they are afraid of being jailed," he said.

Since the coup in 2006 Thailand has been torn by frequently violent demonstrations by his supporters and the “Yellow Shirts” who oppose him in the name of King Bhumibol.

Late in 2008, the Yellow Shirts forced the closure of Bangkok's airports after months of sometimes violent rallies in an attempt to bring down the then government, which stood accused of being nothing more than a proxy for Mr Thaksin, who was sentenced in absentia to two years in jail for corruption

Protests by the "Red Shirts" against Mr Vejjajiva's government have had less impact, but last April 100,000 demonstratos forced the early end to a pan-Asian summit..

The threat they pose could, however, have been overblown for political gain, said Michael Montesano, an expert on Thai politics at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

"The fact that they need to put in place these measures today is a reminder of how little progress the Abhisit government has made since coming to power in changing the political landscape," he said. "I think a lot of it's propaganda."


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