January 24, 2011
By Daniel Ten Kate and Supunnabul Suwannakij
Jan. 25 (Bloomberg) -- Thai nationalists vowed to begin an indefinite occupation of a Bangkok street today to force Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to revoke a border agreement with Cambodia that they say cedes territory to a neighbor.
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 slid 4.3 percent, its biggest drop since October 2009, after the rallies were announced yesterday.
“We will gather indefinitely if Abhisit doesn’t come out to protect the country,” protest leader Chamlong Srimuang told reporters in Bangkok yesterday. He didn’t rule out storming Government House in the days ahead as the group did three years ago.
The moves by the yellow-shirted protesters who backed Abhisit’s rise to power in 2008 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, have vowed to hold competing bi-monthly rallies.
Abhisit said he wouldn’t bow to protesters’ demands because that would put the country “at risk of losing” contested land and may lead to fighting. “If we disagree, we need to talk and exchange views,” Abhisit told reporters in Bangkok yesterday. “I don’t see why we need to quarrel.”
Thailand’s SET Index fell 4.3 percent, its biggest drop since Oct. 15, 2009. The gauge has lost 8.3 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.
Global funds sold 4.05 billion baht ($131 million) more local shares than they bought yesterday, taking this month’s net sales to $954 million, according to stock exchange data.
“Amid already weak sentiment you have a story about a political rally in Thailand,” said Masahiko Ejiri, a Tokyo- based senior fund manager at Mizuho Asset Management Co., which oversees the equivalent of $41 billion. “That doesn’t help stocks at all.”
Thailand’s central bank on Jan. 12 raised its benchmark interest rate for the fourth time in seven months and signaled it will boost borrowing costs further to contain inflation. Higher food and fuel costs may stoke the pace of price increases in 2011, Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij said on Jan. 7.
The People’s Alliance, led in part by a member of Abhisit’s party, ended six months of street protests in 2008 to force Thaksin’s allies from power when a court disbanded the ruling party. Abhisit took power two weeks later in a parliamentary vote, and appointed Kasit Piromya, who spoke at the airport while it was occupied, as his foreign minister.
The group 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, Chamlong said.
“I’m not sure how many people really feel that a few square meters of rather unimportant rocky ground are really a massive public issue,” said Chris Baker, a Bangkok-based historian who has authored several books on Thailand, referring to the disputed border territory. “But on the other hand, nationalism can very easily get out of hand, so it has to be handled very, very sensitively.”
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.
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.
In December, Cambodia arrested seven Thais, including a member of Abhisit’s party, for trespassing. Five were given suspended sentences and released on Jan. 21, while two others remain in detention to face additional charges of spying, the Phnom Penh Post reported, without citing anyone.
--With assistance from Anuchit Nguyen, Suttinee Yuvejwattana and Yumi Teso in Bangkok. Editor: Tony Jordan, Patrick Harrington.
To contact the reporter on this story: Supunnabul Suwannakij in Bangkok at firstname.lastname@example.org; Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg in Hong Kong at firstname.lastname@example.org