Thailand’s Prime Minister, Somchai Wongsawat, fresh from attending the Asia Pacific leaders’ summit in Peru, has rejected calls from the army chief to resign as acts of civil disobedience continued throughout Bangkok. Somchai’s own plane had to be diverted as the main international airport remains occupied by anti-government protestors. In the northern city of Chiang Mai, meanwhile, a gang of government supporters shot dead an anti-government activist.
Anti-government protesters occupying Bangkok's international airport
Thailand’s army chief General Anupong Paochinda, speaking to reporters and business representatives on Wednesday called on the prime minister Somchai Wongsawat to resign and call new elections. It was the second such call in two months.
General Anupong also pressed the anti-government People’s Alliance for Democracy or PAD to end its occupation of the main international airport that has disrupted flights and the travel plans for thousands of people.
General Anupong made a similar call in early October after border patrol police opened fire with tear gas on unarmed protestors outside the parliament building, leaving at least two people dead and 400 injured.
But Somchai quickly dashed the calls, saying the government would not step aside as it was democratically elected.
The PAD this week has stepped up its efforts to force the resignation of the government. On Monday it blockaded the government building preventing a joint sitting of parliament going ahead. Then on Tuesday the PAD seized Suvarnabhumi international airport leading to the cancellation of hundreds of flights.
Further damage to tourism expected
But the move has led to widespread criticism of the alliance which began its campaign in May, protesting moves by the government to make constitutional amendments in order to end legal action against former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, his family and supporters.
Chris Baker, a commentator on Thai politics, said the closure will do enormous damage to Thailand’s reputation and impact the vital tourism industry at the start of the peak season.
"I think this is the death throes of the PAD rather than anything that is going to go anywhere. The effort at the airport is stupid. And of course it’s hugely damaging; this is enormous damage to Thailand just this blockading of the airport."
The protests have come amid increasing signs of violence as both pro-government groups and the PAD attacked each other’s groups in recent days. Bomb blasts at the PAD initial venue of the government house compound has left two people dead and several wounded.
Late Tuesday rival gangs from both sides attacked each other in a residential area that included the use of pistols.
Kriasak Choohavan, a member of the opposition Democrat Party, says the country is deeply divided: "It’s quite grave that we have a political split in the middle in Thailand, and there’s very little prospect of a solution." The anti-government groups have accused the government of acting as a proxy for ousted leader, Thaksin Shinawatra, whom they accuse of corruption and authoritarianism. This week in an interview Thaksin vowed to return to politics in Thailand.
He remains popular with the rural population and the urban working class who supported his populist economic policies when he was in power in from 2001 to 2006.