Tuesday, January 25, 2011

'Hello, we're back!'

Govt vows to get tough as yellow shirts officially turn on ex-ally Abhisit

While the number of protesters was far from their peak of the past few years, the yellow shirts provided all the other ingredients for a deja vu when they returned to their familiar spot near Government House yesterday. In fact, the Abhisit government must have felt something eerily familiar as it suggested it was not taking the seemingly peaceful protest for granted.

As big TV projectors sprang up, cooks started working and the sounds of "clappers" in the Makkhawan Bridge area revived old memories, government leaders immediately rejected the three main demands of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) concerning Thailand's territorial conflicts with Cambodia.

The three PAD demands are:

n Cancellation of the year 2000 memorandum of understanding with Cambodia;

n Thailand's withdrawal from the World Heritage Committee working on the Preah Vihear Temple management;

n Push "encroaching" Cambodians back.

The government vowed to get tough if peace is broken at any point in what the PAD promised would be a prolonged encampment.

"We simply can't yield to their demands," said Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban. "The demands will put national security in danger."

The Centre for Situation Monitoring (CSM), which has replaced the now-defunct Centre for Resolution of the Emergency Situation, believes that the PAD, and its splinter group - the Thai Patriots Network - which had been protesting to push for similar demands on the other side of Government House, were hell-bent on a protracted stay. Normal non-military surveillance has been in place in the area, but military units have been instructed to be ready for reinforcement requests.

The yellow crowd was estimated at between 2,500 and 3,000 protesters yesterday, but security officials expected the number could climb to 5,000 in the next few days.

The CSM decided that there was no need to invoke the Internal Security Act, which allows more stringent measures on crowd control, at the moment. However, the CSM does not rule out use of the law if things take a turn for the worse in the future.

Sondhi Limthongkul, on the yellow-shirt stage, reminded Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, "whose handsome look still fools many people", of the time when relentless PAD protests immobilised the Thaksin government and eventually triggered its downfall.

Abhisit can also be forgiven for shrugging off a promise by another PAD leader, Chamlong Srimuang, that protesters would behave themselves and "not go anywhere", at least for now.

"We apologise to the public if this protest is causing disturbances, but we are doing it for the country," Chamlong said in what could also sound eerily familiar. "We will not move anywhere in the first few days and we will immediately call off the protest if the demands are met."

The PAD leaders claim that this time they are out on the streets to defend 1.8 million rai of Thai soil from being encroached by Cambodia and condemned the Abhisit administration for not defending Thailand's national sovereignty.

As evening fell, the crowd began to swell and its less powerful leaders such as Praphan Koonmee began attacking Abhisit and the administration, claiming the government was selling out Thai soil along the border with Cambodia.

"Since I was born, I have never seen any prime minister speak harmfully to Thai people and his own country," Praphan told the crowd.

"You are fake!" he shouted, referring to Abhisit.

The movement's supporters, such as taxi driver Nattasun Thitiraet, told The Nation that the latest fight was more serious than the one against Thaksin Shinawatra because it was about national sovereignty.

"We'll purge it. This government is going to fall," he predicted. "The people will be roused."

Protester Nattasun, who is in his 50s, said Abhisit had simply let the PAD down. "He himself doesn't cheat but he allows people around him to do so. He doesn't do anything and simply wants to hang on as prime minister."

The yellow shirts are back. And if Thaksin Shinawatra could say anything to Abhisit, it could be: "Welcome to the party!"


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