February 19, 2014
Thai Protests Continue as Tensions, Violence Mount
Thai opposition protesters are stepping up their campaign against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, after clashes with police left five dead a day earlier.
Thousands of anti-government protesters surrounded the prime minister's temporary office in Bangkok, as soldiers looked on from behind barbed-wire fences.
There was no repeat of Tuesday's clashes, when four protesters and one police officer were killed during one of Thailand's most violent outbreaks in months.
Officials said Prime Minister Yingluck was staying away from her office Wednesday. A top security official said there would be no immediate moves to break up any more protests.
But protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has vowed to keep pressure on Ms. Yingluck, whom he says was responsible for the "excessive and unnecessary" violence.
"No matter where Yingluck is going to be, we will go there and fight every day, to expel her every day. We will go every day and everywhere until she can't live in this country, because she is a murder."
Both sides appeared to be using weapons during the Tuesday conflict near the Government House in central Bangkok. A Human Rights Watch researcher told VOA that militants had M79 grenade launchers and were firing at police.
Police say the protests violate an emergency decree, and have promised to violence only if necessary in dispersing the weeks-old sit-ins.
Later Wednesday, the government's strategy to deal with the protests faces a key test, when a civil court rules on an opposition request to lift the state of emergency.
The ruling comes after Thailand's National Anti-Corruption Committee announced it will press charges against Ms. Yingluck. The commission said the prime minister was aware that corruption costing millions of dollars was involved in a rice-buying program that paid farmers above-market prices, but took no action.
Ms. Yingluck was ordered to answer the charges against her next week.
Critics say the prime minister pressed the rice-buying program to win support in rural areas, which already represent the main base of her ruling Pheu Thai party.
At least 14 people have been killed in Thailand since November in a series of small-scale clashes and attacks on demonstrators, in the country's worst political violence since 2010. Ms. Yingluck's opponents contend her government is corrupt and controlled by her billionaire brother, exiled ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Ms. Yingluck tried to resolve the conflict with early elections this month. But the opposition boycotted the vote, and disrupted it in several areas, preventing a definitive result until more polls can be held.