BANGKOK — Pro- and anti-government rallies have increased political tensions in Bangkok as anti-government leaders Saturday sought the appointment of a non-elected prime minister. Pro-government supporters are calling for fresh general elections as pressure grows on the Pheu Thai Party-led government amid fears of violence.
As political tensions rise, pro-government supporters known as Red Shirts rallied Saturday, vowing to fight on, despite calls for caretaker Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Bunsongpaisal to step aside for a non-elected leader before fresh general elections.
The Red Shirts, supporters of former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, are calling for fresh general elections under the Pheu Thai Party-led caretaker government.
Thida Tavornseth, a senior red shirt leader, said the rally was to support democracy.
"Fight for Democracy. F-i-g-h-t. Fight for democracy. fight for democracy. We want elections," said Thida.
The Election Commission has set July 20 as a possible date for a new vote after February 2 poll results were annulled following a boycott of the election by the opposition Democrat Party.
The caretaker government also faces growing pressure from anti-government protesters.
The protesters, calling for widespread reforms before elections, have stepped up a campaign to install a non-elected leader after the constitutional court removed former leader Yingluck Shinawatra, the younger sister of Thaksin, and nine cabinet members from office.
Thaksin, ousted in a coup in 2006, fled Thailand and remains in self-imposed exile after the court sentenced him to jail for corruption.
Red Shirt leaders warn they will "escalate their fight" if there is military intervention or the installation of a un-elected leader, raising fears of clashes or bombings in the capital.
The leader of the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Council (PDRC), Suthep Thangsuban, called on the Thai Senate to select a new premier. But newly elected speaker, Surachai Liangboonlertchai, has so far remained non-committal about taking such action.
On Saturday, New York-based Human Rights Watch joined with Thai media associations in criticizing anti-government protesters besieging major TV stations threatening to cut off power unless they halted broadcasts of information from government sources.
A speech by Suthep at a rally outside the Government House administrative building was later broadcast on several Thai TV stations.
Human Rights Watch senior Thai Researcher Sunai Phasuk said despite the rising tensions violence should be rejected by all groups.
"In a climate where tension is intensifying like this, the only way to prevent an escalation of the situation is that leaders of all political groups as well as state authorities to come forward and reject the use of violence and instead seek to resolve their differences peacefully through democratic means," Sunai said.
A senior Pheu Thai Party spokesman accused Suthep of besieging the state-owned TV stations in a bid to provoke violence that would lead to a military coup. Security has been stepped up in Bangkok.
The Army commander has ruled out a coup, saying the military would intervene only if Thai police were unable to control outbreaks of violence. More than 20 people have died and many injured since protests began seven months ago.