Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Abhisit Warns Nationalists as Bangkok Protests Raise Specter of 2009 Clash

 via CAAI

By Daniel Ten Kate - Jan 25, 2011

Thai nationalist protesters will rally “indefinitely” starting tomorrow to pressure the government into taking stronger action in a border dispute with Cambodia, leader Chamlong Srimuang said. Photographer: Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty Images

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva warned nationalists over the planned blocking of a Bangkok street that raised the specter of protests two years ago that led to deadly clashes and airport closures.

The People’s Alliance for Democracy, which mobilized tens of thousands of people when it seized Bangkok’s airports for eight days in 2008, will gather at 2 p.m. on a bridge less than a kilometer from Abhisit’s Government House office. The benchmark SET Index rose 0.2 percent as of 11:34 a.m. local time, after its biggest drop in 15 months yesterday.

“This event may remind markets of the events in 2008,” Standard Charted Plc said in a note today. “The return of political tensions outside parliament would add to PM Abhisit’s worries and may lead to foreign portfolio outflows.”

The moves by the yellow-shirted protesters who backed Abhisit’s rise to power in 2008 and now say the government is ceding territory to Cambodia may undermine his efforts to prevent street clashes before an election he must call this year. Rival red-clad supporters of ex-leader Thaksin Shinawatra, whose occupation of downtown Bangkok last year led to at least 95 deaths, will gather nearby today and have vowed to hold competing bi-monthly rallies.

The People’s Alliance is demanding that Thailand drop out of the United Nations’ World Heritage Committee, cancel a 2000 agreement with Cambodia on border negotiations and urge Cambodians to withdraw from disputed border areas, leader Chamlong Srimuang said yesterday. He didn’t rule out storming Government House in the days ahead as the group did in 2008.

‘Work as Normal’

“All parties should cooperate and act in line with the rules,” Abhisit told reporters in Bangkok yesterday. Protesters should “make sure they don’t harm the public and allow the government and Parliament to work as normal.”

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said today the protesters’ demands are “dangerous” to the country and the government wouldn’t follow them. The government will set up checkpoints along the route to the demonstration area to ensure the protest stays peaceful, he said.

Police arrested five suspects accused of aiming to sabotage today’s rally with homemade bombs, the Bangkok Post reported, without citing anyone.

Stocks Drop

Thailand’s SET Index fell 4.3 percent yesterday, its biggest drop since Oct. 15, 2009. The gauge has lost 8 percent since reaching a 14-year high on Jan. 6, joining regional neighbors from China to India in declining from recent peaks amid concern central banks will take extra steps to prevent their economies from overheating.

The baht slid 0.3 percent to 31.01 per dollar as of 11:35 a.m. in Bangkok, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The currency touched 31.02, the weakest level since Sept. 9.

Tourism stocks led declines, with Thai Airways International Plc poised for its lowest close since Oct. 13 and Airports of Thailand Pcl, the biggest airport operator, headed for its lowest close since July 2. Central Pattana Pcl, owner of a Bangkok shopping mall that was set ablaze during protests last year, fell 5.3 percent to 27 baht.

Global funds sold 4.05 billion baht ($131 million) more local shares than they bought yesterday, taking this month’s net sales to $955 million, according to stock exchange data.

‘Buying Opportunity’

The recent stock declines presented a “buying opportunity,” Credit Suisse Group AG said today.

“We consider politics a potential positive catalyst, rather than a reason to sell,” analysts Dan Fineman and Siriporn Sothikul wrote in a report today. “We still see a good chance for elections as early as April-May and expect the government to surprise the market with its margin of victory.”

Thai lawmakers today will debate two minor changes to the constitution that would alter the composition of Parliament and make it easier to sign international treaties. Passage of the amendments would fulfill one of Abhisit’s conditions for calling an election ahead of a deadline for the end of this year.

Abhisit’s Democrat party received support from coalition members to increase the number of party-list seats to 125 from 100, and boost the total number of lawmakers to 500 from 480, Krungthep Turakij reported, without saying where it got the information. In the last election in 2007, the Democrat party won the most party-list votes despite finishing with 68 fewer total seats than the pro-Thaksin party.

The People’s Alliance, led in part by a member of Abhisit’s party, ended six months of street protests in 2008 against Thaksin’s allies when a court disbanded the ruling party. Abhisit took power two weeks later in a parliamentary vote.

Protesters Killed

Soldiers declined to enforce orders from a pro-Thaksin prime minister in 2008 to disperse the People’s Alliance from Government House or the airports. The army has twice used force since then to break up protests from Thaksin’s supporters, most recently in May when demonstrators turned down Abhisit’s offer to call an early election.

Street clashes and small bomb attacks during the 2008 protests killed at least five people and injured hundreds of others.

Relations between Thailand and Cambodia soured in 2008 when a Thai court ordered a Thaksin-linked government to withdraw support for Cambodia’s bid to list the disputed Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site. Gun battles in the area since 2008 have killed at least six soldiers.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at dtenkate@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg in Hong Kong at phirschberg@bloomberg.net  

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