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Asia

Mass protests against Thailand government

Thousands of protestors have taken to the streets in Bangkok. Although their initial aim was to overturn a disputed amnesty law, they have now shifted to the wider goal of toppling what they call the 'Thaksin regime.'

They wave the Thai national flag and blow whistles: With a deafening noise, protesters shout slogans against the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on the streets of Bangkok. Meanwhile, demonstrators have also occupied parts of the finance and foreign ministry buildings. Earlier, the leader of the protests, Suthep Thaugsuban, had announced the demonstrators would seize all government buildings, if PM Yingluck failed to resign.

Yingluck is the sister of former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and has been living in exile since then. Thaksin is still regarded as one of Thailand's most controversial politicians.

Emergency in Bangkok

Yingluck reacted swiftly, invoking the emergency law known as “Internal Security Act,” which now covers not only the capital Bangkok, but also some surrounding provinces. Moreover, a Thai court issued on November 26 an arrest warrant for protest leader Thaugsuban.

24.November 2013, Makkawan Bridge, Bangkok, Thailand - Police barrier of concrete blocks against student protest camps (Photo: DW)

Thai government invokes the emergency law covering Bangkok as well as some surrounding provinces

However, no one at present believes the protests will end: "The whole Shinawatra clan ‘should run away,' shouted the ultra- conservative, nationalist protesters on the streets ignoring the fact that both Yingluck and her brother were democratically elected. Nevertheless, protesters argue that a voting system based on Western concept of democracy does not suit Thailand. Alluding to billionaire and former Prime Minister Thaksin, the protesters criticize that only the wealthiest candidates can secure the majority of votes.

General amnesty for all?

On November 1, the Lower House of the Thai parliament passed a general amnesty bill. The original draft was only intended to pardon those convicted for minor offenses. But this was later modified so that the amnesty would also extend to, among others, the military commanders blamed for the bloody crackdown on mass demonstrations in 2010.

This would have meant that both former prime minister and current leader of opposition Abhisit Vejjajiva, along with his then deputy Suthep Thaugsuban, would have escaped prosecution, despite accusations of ordering to shoot at the overwhelmingly pro-Thaksin demonstrators during the mass protests in 2010. Even senior military officials would have been pardoned.

At the same time, the general amnesty would have also allowed former PM Thaksin to return legally to Thailand, despite him being sentenced to a prison term for abuse of office and his party being banned in the Southeast Asian country. Since his ouster from power in a military coup, Thaksin has been living abroad in self-exile.

'Vicious circle of violence'

Leading members of Thailand's opposition and army reject the amnesty for themselves. Four members of the ruling Pheu Thai Party (For Thais Party), including former leaders of the "Red Shirt" movement, said that a general amnesty would not be acceptable for the party base and thus abstained from voting.

There was unrest among many of the "red shirts," who helped Yingluck win a surprising victory in the July 2011 elections. They want ousted Premier Thaksin to return, but not at all costs. Those responsible for the violent political protests of 2010, in which some 100 people were killed, should be put on trial.

The families of the dead are also very critical: "If the responsible politicians and army members are left untouched, Thailand will never be able to break out of this vicious circle of violence," criticized Phayao Akkahad, the mother of a murdered nurse.

epa03182189 Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, talks to his Thai supporters at a hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia, 14 April 2012. (Photo: EPA)

Since his ouster from power in a military coup, Thaksin has been living abroad in self-exile

So the general amnesty, initially designed by the government as a means for reconciliation, has ended up re-igniting the political conflict in Thailand.

Although the Senate - the Upper House of the National Assembly - has already rejected the bill and the government has distanced itself from it, these damage control measures have come too late. Opponents of the government have made it clear that their struggle is no longer about the amnesty law, but about "wiping out the Thaksin regime."

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