Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Thailand: PAD protesters storm parliament, police fire tear gas

BBC reports from Bangkok:
Police in Thailand have fired tear gas to disperse a demonstration by thousands of anti-government protesters in Bangkok. Dozens of people were injured as police intervened in the dawn protest in front of parliament.

The clashes came just hours before new PM Somchai Wongsawat was to deliver a key policy statement. The protesters say he is a proxy for ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra and want the government to resign.
One UK report says 46 people have been injured. Thailand's MCOT reports that "Sixty-four persons were injured in the fray, including one woman who reportedly lost her leg due to an exploding tear gas canister." According to ABC "an unconfirmed report says three people have been injured." The Bangkok Post quotes Pol Maj Gen Viboon Bangthamai, who was at the scene, as saying "I don't think there are many injuries." The Bangkok Post story says the police were unarmed. The PAD anti-government protesters have a history of attempting to portray injured protesters as "martyrs" to their cause. In the past they have exaggerated their own injuries -- especially relative to injuries suffered by opposing protesters. Blogger Bangkok Pundit first made this observation here. He noted that the Thai media appears to have been fairly complicit in reporting such claims.

The early morning protests were timed to make it impossible for the government of the newly installed Thai prime minister to begin business, explains AP:
Lawmakers were due to enter Parliament for a session later Tuesday. The government of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, which was sworn in on Sept. 25, cannot legally carry out its executive duties until it has delivered its policy statement.
Concerning PAD's plans for replacing the current voting system, AP notes:
The protest group wants the country to abandon the system of one-man, one-vote, and instead have a mixed system in which some representatives are chosen by certain professions and social groups. They have not explained how exactly such a system would work or what would make it less susceptible to manipulation.PAD is undemocratic.
Concerning the protester's immediate goals, AP reports:
The protesters' stated intention was to keep Cabinet ministers from entering the parliament building.

"To prohibit representatives from entering for a meeting is not right," Somchai told reporters Monday night.

He said it was the duty of the police to allow the meeting to convene: "I don't have to give an order."
AP mentions two pivotal events leading up to this confrontation:
On Sunday, police arrested Chamlong Srimuang, a key protest leader and one-time Bangkok mayor on charges of insurrection and other crimes. Another key figure, Chaiwat Sinsuwongse, was arrested Friday on the same charges.
Blogger Fonzi commented on these charges: "On the face, those crimes [which include treason] are much worst than anything than that Thaksin has been charged with so far and much more obvious to the layperson. . . . The hypocrisy is that the PAD, who sees itself the prosecutor, judge and jury of its political enemies, can't accept to live under the same laws that everybody else must live under."
Bangkok Pundit blogs the unfolding situation here.

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