BANGKOK — Opponents of Thailand's government held a one day rally Saturday, accusing the government of corruption and mal-administration. The government fears the protests are a prelude for violence. Minor clashes occurred when police used tear gas before making arrests with seveal police officers and protestors were reported injured.
Thousands of demonstrators faced tight security Saturday as they took to the streets in protest of the government of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Hundreds of police and provincial security authorities cordoned off streets near the protest. Authorities said more than 100 people were arrested.
The anti-government Pitak Siam or "Protect Thailand" group, led by a retired army general, had hoped to muster up to 100,000 people at the rally in central Bangkok. But police said fewer than 30,000 showed up.
The government activated its emergency powers through the Internal Security Act (ISA) and the increased police presence appeared to have lowered turnout, with police road-blocks outside the city slowing arrivals to the protest site.
Late in the day protest leader General Boonlert Kaewprasit called off the rally saying police had sought to lure the protests into violence. The rally was also dampened by a late heavy downpour of rain.
Earlier, police had fired tear gas against demonstrators who attempted to break through police lines.
Pian Pinphut , a rally coordinator, said several people needed treatment at nearby hospitals for tear gas inhalation.
“Now the police with all weapons are preventing people from entering or continuing on the street. This morning police used tear gas against the people," said Pinphut. "To threaten ...but after about one hour they stopped using it. Some of my friends some of the media and some of the people got the tear gas and some of them were caught (by police).”
The rally, the second by the Pitak Siam group, was being seen as a test of the level of opposition to the government of Prime Minister Yingluck, elected in July 2011.
Rally protestors Saturday told VOA their concerns were corruption, vote buying and the direction of the economy under the government’s so-called populist policies.
A businessman, who asked not be named, said higher official's wages and corruption were his main concerns.
“Corruption - It is worse, it is. Before all right you have to accept that before it was between about five and 10 per cent but now the minimum is 30 per cent - minimum 30 per cent (of contracts),” he said.
An army general, Kittisak Rathprasert, said people had come to the rally because of political corruption and vote buying at elections.
“In Thailand here for the money to make the power; when you have the power to make money always like that - Now I want to stop corruption, stop the absolute power, that’s why all the people come here because now the people absolutely we have a very, very bad government,” said Rathprasert.
The latest rallies come ahead of a no-confidence debate in parliament this coming week where the opposition parties are set to target the government over corruption, especially in the agricultural sector.
The anti-government rally was the largest since bloody protests in 2010 against the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva and in support of Prime Minister Yingluck’s older brother, former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, that left over 90 people dead and hundreds injured.
Thaksin, facing a jail term for corruption, is still a major influence in Thai politics. He remains overseas but is reported to be pressing the government to pass amnesty and constitutional reform laws to enable his return to Thailand.