Opposition seeks to censure Thai PM over deadly protest crackdown; more Red Shirts surrender

By Thanyarat Doksone, AP
Monday, May 24, 2010

Opposition seeks to censure Thai PM over crackdown

BANGKOK — Opposition leaders moved to censure Thailand’s prime minister Monday for his handling of rioting and violence in Bangkok that left at least 85 people dead in clashes between demonstrators and troops over the past two months.

The shell-shocked capital took steps back toward normalcy Monday, with schools and many offices open for the first time after a week of government-ordered holidays and following efforts to clean up parts of the capital barricaded by the Red Shirt protesters or burned in riots.

The motion to censure Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was introduced by the opposition Pheu Thai Party — allies of ousted former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, whom the Red Shirt protesters generally support. It also sought to censure several of his top Cabinet members, including the finance, foreign and transport ministers.

The motion was largely symbolic. It would require a vote in Parliament and was expected to be easily defeated because Abhisit and his supporters have more votes. Details on the specific reasons for the censure had not been released to the media.

The motion underscores a growing political and social rift that has opened up since the so-called Red Shirt protesters swept into Bangkok in March to begin two months of protests demanding Abhisit resign and call early elections.

The protesters moved into Bangkok’s central business district, building bamboo-and-tire barricades and controling checkpoints that crippled one of the city’s most important shopping and tourism areas.

While the protests themselves were generally peaceful, several shootings and grenade attacks were blamed on a militant Red Shirt wing. Two military crackdowns led to deadly street clashes between soldiers and protesters.

All told, at least 88 people — mostly Red Shirts who were shot — died in protest-related violence, including 16 people killed in last Wednesday’s crackdown when soldiers stormed Red Shirt strongholds. Some protesters threw grenades and torched dozens of buildings as they fled in the worst political violence Bangkok has seen in decades.

All but one of the top Red Shirt leadership were in custody Monday after the surrender of two more key figures, but the nation’s deputy prime minister warned that the movement behind the protests is still a threat.

Suthachai Yimprasert and Somyot Pruksakasaemsuk surrendered to police Monday morning, the government’s Thai News Agency said, as Bangkok residents returned to work after a week of government-ordered holidays.

Thailand’s stock exchange, one of dozens of buildings torches as the protesters fled a military push on their main protest site last week, also reopened, along with schools, businesses and much of the transport system.

The capital remained under a nighttime curfew, however, and a state of emergency.

Abhisit on Sunday extended that curfew until at least Tuesday and said he will consider early elections only after the violence that has wracked the nation is completely over.

Elections are seen as a key step toward healing the deep divide that has split Thailand between supporters of Abhisit and the Red Shirts, who are made up mainly of the urban and rural poor and see Abhisit’s government as elitist and illegitimate.

The Red Shirts see Abhisit’s government as illegitimate because a Thaksin-allied party — not Abhisit’s Democrats — won 2007 elections to restore democracy after a military coup ousted Thaksin previous year.

Abhisit has accused Red Shirt followers of planning further protests and violence, although he has stressed that the government was in control and that the capital has largely returned to normal.

Hoping to appease the protesters, Abhisit earlier this month offered to hold elections on Nov. 14. But the reconciliation plan fell through when Red Shirt leaders, who want him to resign immediately, made more demands.

Many analysts believe the Red Shirts could cause unrest for years to come. Thaksin lives in exile after his 2006 ouster in a military coup and subsequent conviction on corruption-related charges, but he continues to influenceThai politics.

Abhisit’s government took power in December 2008, not through an election but by a vote in Parliament, to fill the power vacuum after disputed court rulings ousted two elected pro-Thaksin governments.

Associated Press writers Eric Talmadge, Vijay Joshi and Denis Gray contributed to this report.

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