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Thai protests escalate after failed vote

Protests have brought Bangkok to a standstill as demonstrations are now directed at the police.

Last updated: 28 Nov 2013 13:33
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Bangkok, Thailand - Thousands of boisterous demonstrators swarmed Thailand's police headquarters on Thursday in a defiant protest after beleaguered Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra easily survived a no-confidence vote in parliament.

After days of paralysing protests in the capital, a kilometre stretch of street in central Bangkok was blocked in front of the headquarters. Thousands of protesters came out to denounce the police, calling them corrupt stooges of Yingluck's brother - former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra - and demanding top officers step down. 

"Go away, go away, go away," shouted one women middle-aged women at nearby officers as a crowd around her cheered.

A lot of people are out of jobs. The people are really suffering.

- Supong Limtanakool, Bangkok University

More than a hundred riot police in dark blue garb with helmets, shin guards, batons and purple scarves wrapped around their necks looked on expressionless through a razor-wire covered fence at the Royal Thai Police Headquarters.

Eardrum-piercing whistles rang out as about 3,000 anti-government demonstrators took over the block, also the main thoroughfare to Bangkok's most prestigious shopping district.

Brazen protesters managed to temporarily cut electricity to the main police station by severing power lines. A nearby hospital was also left without power, which could reduce support for their cause.

One protester accused high-ranking police officials of siding with Thaksin - himself a former officer who now lives in exile in Dubai.

"I'm here to protest the police, we want all followers of Thaksin to go," said a man in his 70s who identified himself as Amnuay K. "We want people to make a revolution to reform the government. There is just too much corruption."

No-confidence

Earlier in the day, Yingluck comfortably survived a no-confidence motion in parliament where her Puea Thai Party-led government holds a solid majority. 

The prime minister called for dialogue with the protesters, who have numbered in the tens of thousands on the streets of the capital over the past few days, though a police spokesman  said  only 15,000 now remained in Bangkok. 

"If we have a chance to talk, to discuss, please call off the protests for the country’s peace and for the Thai people’s happiness," Yingluck said prior to the vote. "I’m begging you, the protesters, because this doesn’t make the situation any better.”

However, talks between the two sides don't appear to be in the cards according to a leader of the demonstrations, former deputy prime minister Suthep Taugsuban. 

"The people will quit only when the state power is in their hands," Suthep  said . "There will be no negotiation."

It remains to be seen what will happen next. Asked about the police figures claiming the protests were dwindling, Bangkok University's Supong Limtanakool disagreed.

"No, as a Thai, we're so sick and tired of these white lies," he told Al Jazeera. "It's always a game of cat and mouse."

However, Southeast Asia analyst Larry Jagan said the protests were "losing steam". He predicted with revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej's 86th birthday next week, the demonstrations will likely grind to a halt out of respect for the world's longest-serving monarch.

"The protesters have to decide what to do," said Jagan. "The protest leaders face a dilemma as their demands are vague and unachievable."

Supong said Yingluck's government also doesn't have many options, noting that sending in the police could "elevate the problem that much higher".

Both analysts suggested the government could dissolve parliament and call a snap election, which the Puea Thai Party would likely win with its significant rural support.

Anger at police

While the demonstrators have taken over government office buildings this week, Thursday's animosity downtown was directed squarely at the police. 

"I think the police support Thaksin, that's why I'm here. That is no longer acceptable," a man calling himself Pea told Al Jazeera, giving only his first name. 

Men on the back of a pick-up truck belted out fiery speeches through a speaker system denouncing police corruption. Stone-faced officers lined up just inside the headquarter's fence, some snapping photos of their antagonists with smart phones. 

Thailand has been polorised since the 2006 bloodless coup that ousted Thaksin from power after he was widely accused of corruption. However, elections have twice returned Thaksin's allies to power, with the majority of rural voters standing by his populist policies, frustrating the outnumbered middle and upper classes who mostly reside in Bangkok. 

The Southeast Asian country hasn't seen demonstrations this large - 100,000 people reportedly converged on the capital on Sunday - since 2010 when "Red Shirt" supporters of Thaksin took over the main business district for months. 

The occupation was eventually crushed by the military, with the official death toll at 90 though the Red Shirts say many more died in the assault. 

The latest round of protests is largely over the government's mishandling of the economy as well as deeply entrenched corruption, Supong said.

"They [the government] have run the economy into the ground. They just don't care," he said. "A lot of people are out of jobs. The people are really suffering."

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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