(AP) Thai protesters cut off power to PM’s offices
By GRANT PECK and JINDA WEDEL
Protesters announced they cut off electricity to the prime minister’s office compound on Thursday and demanded that police abandon the premises, piling fresh pressure on the government amid a political crisis that has dragged on for weeks.
The protesters, seeking to force the replacement of caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government before a Feb. 2 election, have threatened to force their way in if police don’t leave. Police attempts to negotiate were rebuffed, but they did not withdraw immediately.
An Associated Press photographer inside one of the buildings said electricity had been shut off to the press office. Police confirmed that power had been cut to some buildings in the compound, collectively called Government House.
Protesters also cut barbed wire placed on top of the steel fence surrounding the compound while police stationed nearby looked on.
Yingluck was not in her offices at the time and shortly afterward gave a televised address from an unidentified location in which she announced a Dec. 15 meeting of all sections of society to try to find a solution to the crisis.
The protest leadership has demanded a meeting with senior military and police officials, a call which has so far been rejected, at least publicly. Protest leaders did meet at a hotel with business leaders in what was billed as an effort to explain their goals.
In a previous confrontation, police withdrew from the prime minister’s compound to allow the demonstrators in without a fight. That withdrawal came after two days of increasingly violent standoffs. Since the latest unrest began last month that left five people dead and nearly 300 injured.
The street fighting was suspended when both sides agreed it would dishonor the occasion of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s birthday last week.
Looking for a way out of the crisis, Yingluck dissolved the lower house of Parliament on Monday and called for early elections. Her foes, however, insist she step aside to make way for an interim appointed government, an action that cannot be taken under the country’s constitution.
They claim that Thai politics is hopelessly corrupt under the influence of Yingluck’s billionaire brother Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for the country’s constitutional monarch.
To carry out reforms, they want to institute a less democratic system where the concept of one-man, one vote would no longer apply because they believe the masses are not well enough educated to choose responsible leaders. They also say the poor sell their votes.
Thaksin’s supporters say he is disliked because he has shifted power away from Thailand’s traditional ruling class.
Thaksin and his allies have easily won every national election since 2001, relying on the support of the rural majority and urban poor, who benefited from his populist policies. The opposition Democrat Party, which has allied itself with the protests, has not won an election since 1992.
Yingluck’s ruling party won the last vote two years ago in a landslide, and is likely to be victorious in any new ballot.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban this week has been declaring that his movement has more legitimacy than the government, which he claims has acted against the constitution.
In a series of bizarre “orders,” he has called for police not to report to their posts and demanded that Yingluck be prosecuted for insurrection, a charge that has already been laid against him for his movement’s temporary occupation of government offices and call for civil servants to not report for their jobs but instead join the protest movement.
The orders are not taken seriously by anyone outside of the protesters, but are meant to project an image of power among supporters and the public at large.
Earlier Thursday, former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva appeared in court to be charged with murder in connection with the 2010 deaths of two protesters killed during a crackdown on demonstrators against what was then his government.
Abhisit, who was charged with the deaths of a 43-year-old man and a 14-year-old girl, denied all the charges in the brief court hearing, and was released on bail. Th, with the date for his rial set for March 24. About 90 people were killed in the crackdown, and it was not clear why Abhisit faced charges in those particular two deaths.
Protest leader Suthep, who served as Abhisit’s deputy prime minister, was supposed to face the same charges, but did not show up in court. He had asked his hearing to be postponed until January.
In 2010, “Red Shirt” protesters occupied downtown Bangkok for more than two months until being dispersed in the crackdown. The Red Shirts are Thaksin’s supporters, who were seeking to have Abhisit call early elections.
Abhisit’s government approved the use of live ammunition under limited conditions and deployed sharpshooters and snipers during the demonstrations.