Sunday, 2 May 2010

Thailand moves closer to civil war

THAILAND'S political deadlock is tipping closer to open conflict, with the prime minister warning of “clashes and losses” if anti-government protesters do not leave their central Bangkok rallying point, reports the Financial Times.

“From now on, what the government will do may risk clashes and losses, but the government knows what it’s doing. What needs to be done must be done,” Abhisit Vejjajiva, the prime minister, said as part of his regular Sunday broadcast.

The protest movement, formally known as the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, but more commonly known as “red shirts” after their trademark attire, seemed unmoved by Mr Abhisit’s threats.

“That’s Abhisit’s problem. If he wants to do anything, we’re prepared for that,” Nattawut Saikua, one of the protest leaders said on Sunday morning.

Mr Abhisit has been struggling to find an acceptable response to seven weeks of demonstrations calling for his resignation.

The protesters have used tyres and sharpened bamboo staves to barricade themselves in around a key intersection in Bangkok’s commercial heart, shutting down some of the city’s biggest shopping malls and hotels, and paralysing the administration.

The red shirts believe that Mr Abhisit, who came to power 17 months ago in a controversial parliamentary vote, lacks the legitimacy of a popular mandate and are demanding his immediate resignation.

The conflict has already killed 27 people, most of whom died when protesters and the Thai army fought a gun battle in the heart of old Bangkok three weeks ago.

“The stand-off in the streets of Bangkok between the government and Red Shirt protesters is worsening and could deteriorate into an undeclared civil war,” the International Crisis Group warned on Friday.