The Thai Government says it is willing to open talks with exiled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra whose supporters have laid siege to a main government administration building among growing fears of renewed political turmoil in the country.
Mass protests against the government in Bangkok
The anti-government protestors, mostly dressed in red, are now in their sixth day of besieging a government building, with calls for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s three months old administration to step down and call fresh elections.
The rallies have been led by groups backing former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, now living in exile after fleeing the country on corruption charges last year. But Thaksin’s message is still heard by way of a video conference call. The whereabouts of the broadcast is uncertain.
Thaksin, ousted from power in a 2006 coup amid allegations of abuse of power and conflicts of interest, has accused key advisors of the Thai king of planning the coup, a charge they deny. He has called for protests to be stepped up throughout the country.
Jakrapob Penkair, a rally organizer and close associate of Thaksin, says: "We want to stay here until some kind of political breakthrough has happened. We want action this time. We have been here several times to state our wishes. This time it is the time to get these wishes to come true."
Prime Minister Abhisit’s Democrat Party leads a six party coalition government that came to power last December after a court ruling weakened the then governing pro-Thaksin administration.
Thaksin's last attempt?
Human Rights Watch representative Sunai Pasuk says the protests are seen as a 'last attempt' by Thaksin, as Thai banks have frozen the equivalent of one-point-six billion euros of Thaksin's, to both overthrow the government as well as to expose the forces behind the coup against him. Thaksin, he says, sees himself as a martyr.
"Thaksin presents himself as a democratic icon that was ousted by undemocratic means by a military coup regardless of the fact that while he was in power Thaksin was known for violating all basic human rights and democratic principles."
On Wednesday the government offered to open the way for talks with Thaksin although it refused to call new elections.
ADB: Further instability will damage economy
Meanwhile, there are growing fears over the impact the political protests may have on the recession hit economy. The Asian Development Bank this week forecast the Thai economy would contract by two per cent in 2009 due to global recession and sharply lower export demand.
Thailand representative for ADB, Jean Pierre Verbiest, joined warnings by other economists of the impact further political uncertainties would have, especially if the government is forced to step down: "If you have major disruptions in leadership at this stage it would have quite a strong impact."
Verbiest says in case the instability continues, the economy might contract by as much as five per cent, amid warnings of more than two million unemployed.