In Thailand, a key leader who oversaw protest rallies against a government aligned to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra last year was shot and seriously wounded on Friday. Analysts fear the attack may trigger more political violence days after the Thai army regained control of Bangkok after pro-Thaksin protestors blockaded streets in a bid to force the current government to resign.
Thai media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul survived an attempt on his life on Friday
Gunmen using semi-automatic weapons opened fire on Sondhi Limthongkul early on Friday morning as he was being driven to his media company.
A key leader of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and a supporter of the monarchy and the current government, Sondhi sustained head wounds and was later operated in hospital. He was expected to make a full recovery but his driver remained in a critical condition.
The Thai police said the weapons used by the two men who ambushed Songhi’s car were M-16s and an AK-47s. Almost a hundred spent shells were found near the scene. Other leaders of the People’s Alliance for Democracy said the attack was politically motivated.
Yellow-shirted PAD supporters are vehemently opposed to Thaksin
The supporters of the People’s Alliance for Democracy distinguish themselves by wearing yellow – a reference to the Thai monarchy. During recent street demonstrations in favour of ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, most protesters wore red.
Sondhi, a former business partner of Thaksin’s, turned against him in 2005, accusing him of corruption and abuse of power. He and the People’s Alliance for Democracy organised rallies which eventually led to Thaksin being ousted in a bloodless military coup in September 2006.
The PAD re-emerged early last year after a pro-Thaksin government won general elections in December 2007. The PAD accused the government of seeking to pass legislation that would whitewash corruption charges against Thaksin and pave the way for his return to power.
In dramatic scenes, the PAD occupied the government’s main administrative building for several months and later paralysed operations at the two main airports in Bangkok. This cost Thailand billions in lost tourism revenue. The PAD now faces charges in conjunction with the occupation.
Assassination attempt could trigger more violence
Days after the government sent in troops to disperse pro-Thaksin demonstrators on the streets of Bangkok, Sunai Phasuk, the Thai representative for the US-based Human Rights Watch, expressed his fears that the attempt on Sondhi’s life could trigger more political violence.
“Clearly the shooting of Sondhi Limthongkul this morning shows that the political crisis in Thailand is far from over. There are still forces out there willing and able to unleash violence.”
The Thai government tightened security around Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva after the attack on Sondhi. Abhisit was slightly hurt earlier this week when pro-Thaksin mobs attacked his car.
Somphob Manarangsan, an economist from Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, thought that other “underground” forces beside the pro-Thaksin camp might be at work in the attempted murder of Sondhi:”The conflict is quite complicated and deepening -- not only between the red and yellow shirts.”
This view was backed by Human Rights Watch’s Sunai who said there may be elements within the army looking to stage a coup: “My take on this is it doesn’t have to be the Red Shirts that were responsible for the shooting of Sondhi Limthongkul. It could have been a third element that wants the tension to escalate. Thailand seems to be heading for a new round of political violence, which may require military intervention. That would be the end of democracy in this country.”
Bangkok remained under emergency rule for a sixth day on Friday. It was imposed when pro-Thaksin supporters stormed a summit of Asian leaders at the nearby seaside resort of Pattaya and caused it to be cancelled.