Anti-government protests roil Thai capital Bangkok as 3 killed

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A Thai opposition protester throws a tear gas canister back to the police during clashes outside the Government House in Bangkok, on December 1, 2013. Photographer: Christophe Archambault/AFP via Getty Images

Protesters seeking to oust Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra vowed to incite more unrest this week after clashes left three dead in Bangkok at the weekend and the central bank warned the standoff was hurting the economy.

Demonstrators removed barriers surrounding Government House and the prime minister's office, and tear gas was fired to repel them, said Piya Utayo, a police spokesman. The activists, who are seeking to paralyze the administration, massed outside the police headquarters, Piya said. The army chief offered to broker talks, according to an army spokesman.

At stake is control of Southeast Asia's second-largest economy in a conflict between supporters and opponents of Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother. Suthep Thaugsuban, head of the protesters and a former deputy prime minister with the main opposition Democrat Party, told supporters it's necessary to break the law to "root out" Thaksin's political network and vowed he wouldn't negotiate with the government.

"Yingluck should listen to the people and return power to the people," Suthep said in a speech late yesterday. "People don't just want her to dissolve the house, they want to take part in making changes for the country to have true democracy."

Suthep has called for Thailand's democratic system to be replaced by a representative assembly consisting of people from a cross-section of society. Parties linked to Yingluck's brother, who was ousted in a 2006 coup, have won the past five elections on support from the rural north and northeastern provinces. The protests in Bangkok are led by the Democrats, who haven't won a national poll in more than 20 years.

Rewrite constitution

"This will be very bad for the economy because the protests have turned from peaceful to violent," said Somprawin Manprasert, deputy dean of the economics faculty at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University. "We had hoped that government investment will help drive the economy next year. Now the hope is gone."

Thailand's economy grew 2.7 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier, the slowest pace since the first three months of 2012, official data show. The central bank cut its 2013 growth estimate to about 3 percent from 3.7 percent on Nov. 27, the same day it unexpectedly lowered its benchmark interest rate by a quarter of a percentage point.

The baht weakened to 32.228 against the dollar on Nov. 28, the lowest level since Sept. 9, and the SET Index of stocks has declined about 17 percent since reaching a high on May 21.

Army chief Prayuth Chan-Ocha is concerned that protesters tried to break into Government House and the Metropolitan Police Office, prompting the use of tear gas, said deputy army spokesman Winthai Suvaree. Prayuth offered to act as mediator to ease tensions, Winthai said.

No talks

Three people were killed and 54 injured in clashes between pro- and anti-government supporters near Ramkhamhaeng University in Bangkok, the Bangkok Emergency Medical Service said on its website, after earlier saying four were killed.

Suthep said he met Yingluck, Prayuth and the heads of the air force and navy late yesterday, and refused to negotiate. He urged civil servants to go on strike today to aid the cause of the opposition.

Police backed by military forces were stationed at key ministries, Piya said in a briefing broadcast by state-owned NBT television.

"Political unrest has affected consumption, investment and tourism," Prasarn Trairatvorakul, governor of the Bank of Thailand, told reporters in Prachinburi province, 140 kilometers (87 miles) east of Bangkok. "Political protests also have direct impact on sentiment."

Paralyzing government

Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters entered the compounds of the Department of Special Investigation and state-owned telecommunications offices Nov. 30, escalating the drive to overthrow Yingluck's administration.

Seizing Yingluck's office, police headquarters and ministries will paralyze the government, Suthep said yesterday, in comments broadcast by Bluesky. Without the ministries, the government will collapse, he said.

Thaksin, a former prime minister, has lived overseas since a court in 2008 sentenced him to two years in prison for helping his wife buy land from the government.

Yingluck said Nov. 30 that violence would not be used against demonstrators and reiterated an offer of talks. Suthep has rejected multiple offers of negotiations.

"If they can change the government, they will want to set up their own government and will rewrite the constitution to give priority to unelected sources of power," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University. The country's electoral democracy is in the protesters' view "the source of Thailand's corruption," he said.

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