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Bangkok hopes protests won’t spark violence – But its security forces are ready to tackle any outbreak, says foreign minister

March 13th, 2010 · No Comments


THE government is hopeful that this weekend’s mass protests will pass without violence, but security forces are well prepared for any incident, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya says.

Thousands of red-shirt supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday started mobilising from around the country to converge on the capital tomorrow, when they plan a mass rally to force the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration to step down.

Mr Kasit said the red shirts, marching under the banner of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), would not be able to wreak havoc on the streets of Bangkok as they did from April 12 to 14 last year. He said the UDD, despite its claims to be campaigning for social justice, was more concerned with bringing Thaksin – who was ousted in a military coup in September 2006 and is a fugitive from justice – back to power.

‘Everyone in Thailand is concerned about political instability, but this instability was not created by the wrongdoing of the government,’ he told The Business Times yesterday. ‘It is being created by one person, a former prime minister (Thaksin) who is on the run from criminal charges. He is still using his financial resources to instigate political unrest.’

The government has invoked the Internal Security Act for the March 11-23 period in Bangkok and seven surrounding provinces, granting the military broad powers to police the demonstrations – where numbers are expected to reach 100,000 to 150,000 – and maintain and restore public order if violence breaks out.

Most schools located near the protest assembly points were shut yesterday and many companies also chose to close for the day. While this resulted in a loss of business, it did show that firms were at least exercising ‘due caution’, said Nandor von der Luehe, chairman of the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in Thailand.

Mr von der Luehe said he hoped the protests would be peaceful but that there was a real danger of violence.

Most foreign businesses saw the government’s use of the security act as a positive development, he said, as it demonstrated the security forces were leaving nothing to chance.

But the fact that large-scale demonstrations were taking place showed that the country was far from resolving the political impasse.

‘People are fed up with all this political infighting. From a macroeconomic perspective, Thailand looks pretty good, but politics is blocking its ability to take full advantage of its positioning,’ he said.

Reuters reported that economists caution that possible unrest could hurt some businesses and sap consumer confidence in South-east Asia’s second-biggest economy, possibly forcing the central bank to delay an expected rise in interest rates from record lows.

But the political turbulence has done little to stop foreign investors, who have snapped up about US$500 million of Thai stocks this year and are more focused on a swift, export-led economic rebound in Southeast Asia’s emerging markets.

Analysts doubt the protests will derail a rising trend in Thai stocks, which are among the cheapest in Asia as measured by price-to-earnings ratios even after surging 63 per cent last year, Reuters added.

Published March 13, 2010
© The Business Times

Tags: news · politics · red shirts · Thailand · The Business Times (Singapore) · UDD

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