Concerns grow as Thai violence worsens

A relative kissing the hand of a girl killed in a bomb blast near an anti-government protest site in Bangkok on Sunday.

CONCERN is growing over an intensification of violence in Thailand at the weekend that killed four, including three children.

All in, more than 100 days of political protests have left at least 20 people dead and more than 600 injured, but the events of the past three days, including two bomb attacks in downtown Bangkok, have shaken already sagging confidence.

And there is no end in sight.

A strategy meeting of pro-government "red shirt" leaders in the north-eastern town of Nakhon Ratchasima on Sunday came up with 11 "proposals".

These included proposals that the Yingluck government not step down, anti-government leader Suthep Thaugsuban and his colleagues in the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) be arrested and the "red shirts" launch civil disobedience protests against "unjust" rulings by independent agencies - shorthand for the courts.

"The government must not be defeated. This is an order from the people," red-shirt leader and former Cabinet minister Natthawut Saikuar said.

Meanwhile, PDRC leaders are targeting the Shinawatra clan's family assets in a bid to further harass the family of caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who had been forced to abandon her office weeks ago and hold meetings in different places for security reasons.

Mr Vikas Kawatra, a senior executive at SCB Securities, said in an e-mail that while it is premature to speculate on political changes, what is certain is that any attempt to bring down the ruling Puea Thai Party in an "undemocratic manner" would see the "emergence of pro-government red shirts".

"Another certainty is the sinking economy," he added. "Lack of government is holding back 500 billion baht (S$20 billion) worth of new projects at the Board of Investments.

"Absence of government suspends all efforts to be ready for ASEAN integration."

The red shirts, frustrated at the government's strategic backpedalling in the face of the challenge of the PDRC, have been further incensed by a court ruling last week.

Young lives lost as Bangkok protests rage on


The Feb 19 judgment may prove to be a turning point.

A civil court ruled that while the current state of emergency is legal, the security authorities cannot use force or other harsh measures under the emergency to break up the protests that have blockaded key intersections in downtown Bangkok.

That left the red shirts with the impression that the PDRC is "untouchable", said Mr Sunai Phasuk, Thailand researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Political analyst and legal adviser Veerapat Pareeyawong said: "The longer the protest goes on, the longer we can't have an election, the more intense this conflict will become.

"If we go on like this... police can't do their jobs and there is no rule of law, society will collapse."

The task of containing the rising anger of red shirts falls on the leadership of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), an umbrella group for the movement.

This was very clear at the strategy meeting, where an emotional local leader from Chonburi said that PDRC protesters who came under attack at a small rally in the north-eastern town of Trat last Saturday "had it coming".

UDD chair Thida Tawornseth interrupted his speech, saying that while she understood how the man felt, it was inappropriate to support such acts of violence.

Another red-shirt leader chimed in with the same message, whereupon the man from Chonburi stalked off in disgust.

Ms Thida is widely seen as a moderate, but the red-shirt movement has many local leaders, some of them hawkish.

The PDRC also has armed elements, as was evident in a clash with red shirts at Laksi in Bangkok last Friday, and also in clashes with the police.

"There are stupid and violent people on both sides who think violence will serve a purpose," said Mr Veerapat.

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