Apichart Weerawong/AP
Anti-government supporters gather during a protest at Government House in Bangkok,
Thailand, Sunday, Oct. 5, 2008.

Thai Protests Turn Violent

October 07, 2008 05:49 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Thailand’s army was deployed as months-long protests against the government intensified, leaving one person dead and hundreds injured.

Troops, Protesters Clash

Agence France-Presse correspondents reported "scenes of chaos," with police firing tear gas at thousands of protesters and mobs overturning police cars and firing guns.

Officials said Tuesday that one female protester died from an unspecified cause, while eight police officers were shot or stabbed during the upheaval.

The violence followed months of protests against the government, during a time that saw the ouster of former prime minister Samak Sundaravej and the appointment of the current leader, Somchai Wongsawat. The protesters object to Samak and Somchai's links to another ousted leader, Thaksin Shinawatra, who is currently in exile.

An Army spokesman told the AFP that the military was enlisted to appease the protesters, and that there would not be a military coup.

"The government does not consider (the protests) peaceful," said government spokesman Nattawut Saikua, according to the AFP. "They are armed militants with guns and hand grenades and move with clear purpose to seize key government installations."

Background: Parliament chooses Thaksin relative

Somchai Wongsawat became Thailand's 26th prime minister in September. People's Power Party members and its coalition in Parliament voted 298-163 in favor of Somchai, against opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, reported the Bangkok Post.

Somchai is the former senior deputy prime minister in former leader Samak Sundaravej's cabinet, and the brother-in-law of another ousted former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.

But the turmoil in Thailand is far from over, commented several news agencies at the time. Soon after the vote, leaders of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which took over the Government House in protest of Samak's rule several weeks ago, said that they do not support Somchai due to his ties with Thaksin. Samak was ousted the week before for hosting cooking shows while serving as prime minister.

His fugitive father-in-law Thaksin was deposed by a military coup in 2006 and is currently in exile in Britain. On the same day of Somchai's election, the Thai Supreme Court issued its third arrest warrant for Thaksin for missing his court date in Thailand.

Samak, who was given the boot for hosting cooking shows while in office, had dropped out of the prime minister race after accepting the re-nomination of his politicaly party, the People's Power Party, just a few days earlier. The move soon drew opposition from PPP factions fearing that it would contribute to the country's political turmoil.

Opinion & Analysis: The selection of Somchai

Shawn W. Crispin of Asia Times Online says that the selection of Somchai, whom one government insider called a "low expectation candidate," is evidence of increasing weakness and division within the PPP. "The intra-party tensions signal Somchai's tenure will be weak and short-lived and raise new questions about how the electoral chips may fall at the next elections, expected to be held in the coming months after the passage of the 2009 budget or after the PPP is dissolved on electoral fraud charges, as an Election Commission ruling recently recommended."

Key Players: Somchai Wongsawat, Samak Sundaravej, Thaksin Shinawatra

Somchai Wongsawat, Thailand's 26th prime minister, is a 61-year-old former judge, the former education minister and the brother-in-law of ousted former leader Thaksin Shinawatra. As the former senior deputy prime minister in Samak's cabinet, he had been the acting leader of Thailand since Samak was forced out on Sept. 9. The IHT points out the contrast in his demeanor from that of his predecessor: "He is slight where Samak is hulking. Both studied law at Thammasat University in Bangkok, but Somchai talks in the tempered tones of a pedagogue, while Samak relishes the punch-up rhetoric of parliamentary debate. Somchai dispenses smiles to his questioners; Samak shoots glares."

Related Topic: ‘Thai Astrologers See Fortune in Political Soothsaying’


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