News / Asia

    Thai PM Returns to Bangkok as Protest Showdown Looms

    FILE - Thailand Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra pauses as she talks to media after attending a Cabinet meeting, in Bangkok.
    FILE - Thailand Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra pauses as she talks to media after attending a Cabinet meeting, in Bangkok.
    Reuters
    Embattled Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra returned to the capital, Bangkok, on Wednesday for traditional New Year celebrations in a display of unity alongside military chiefs before a looming showdown with anti-government protesters.

    Demonstrators who accuse Yingluck of being the puppet of her self-exiled brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, have vowed to occupy government ministries and other key sites in Bangkok in their bid to scuttle a snap Feb. 2 election.

    The protests since late November have pitted the brother and sister's political machine with its base among the rural poor in the north against Bangkok's conservative elite.

    It has flared into sporadic violence, and army chief General Prayuth Chan-Ocha refused to rule out a coup after wild clashes outside an election registration center a week ago. Three people have been killed since Thursday.

    Yingluck, who is caretaker leader after calling the snap poll in a bid to defuse the crisis, had spent more than a week outside Bangkok shoring up support in the north but returned to the capital early on Wednesday.

    She joined Prayuth and other senior military leaders in paying their respects to retired general Prem Tinsulanonda, the president of King Bhumibol Adulyadej's Privy Council. Prayuth's warning last week was a sobering reminder that the military has staged or attempted 18 coups in 81 years.

    In a New Year message aired overnight, Thailand's revered King Bhumibol urged peace, prosperity and unity among Thais.

    “Everyone's wishes do not seem to be very different, either for their own sake or for the peace of the country,” he said.

    Wednesday's largely ceremonial duties were a prelude to what are shaping as rougher days ahead for Yingluck, whose Puea Thai Party normally would be expected to win the election.

    The demonstrators, led by fiery former deputy premier Suthep Thaugsuban, have vowed to derail the ballot and demand instead an appointed “people's council” before a future vote.

    Suthep has vowed to seize ministries and other sites across the capital, although it is not clear when that will start. The main opposition Democrat Party has also declared it will boycott the election.

    Thailand's Electoral Commission has offered to act as a mediator between Puea Thai, the Democrats and the protesters. Commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said the commission would meet senior members of Puea Thai and the Democrats on Thursday, although he said the protesters had rejected a similar offer.

    “I believe that something positive will come out of the meeting and the situation will ease up,” Thai media quoted Somchai as saying.

    While the protests have mainly been in Bangkok, election registration has also been blocked in at least seven provinces in the south, where the protesters and Democrats draw support.

    The wider aim of the protesters is to neutralize the power of Thaksin, who they say has manipulated democracy by buying the support of the rural poor with populist policies such as cheap healthcare and subsidies for rice farmers.

    Thaksin was overthrown in a 2006 coup and fled into exile two years later to avoid jail for graft charges he said were politically motivated. In November, Puea Thai tried to push through an amnesty bill that would have allowed Thaksin to return a free man, sparking the latest round of protests.

    You May Like

    Vietnam Urges US to Lift Lethal Weapons Ban Amid S. China Sea Tensions

    US president’s upcoming visit to Vietnam underscores strength of relationship, and lifting embargo would reflect that trust, ambassador says

    Are US Schools Turning a Blind Eye to Radical Qatari Preachers?

    Parade of radical Islamist clerics using mosque at Qatar’s Education City draws mounting criticism for American universities that maintain satellite branches there

    Why Islamic State Is Down But Not Out

    Despite loss of territory, group’s ferocious attacks over past three months seen as testimony to its continued durability and resourcefulness

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroadi
    X
    May 02, 2016 1:36 PM
    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora