Supporters of Thailand’s former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra vowed to disturb the summit of Southeast Asian nations that kicked off on Friday in the resort town of Pattaya, 130 kilometres southeast of Bangkok. However, as Asian leaders began to arrive, the Thai government was adamant that the ASEAN summit would go ahead as planned.
Demonstrators clash with police at ASEAN summit in Pattaya
The police said they would do everything to clear the area after protesters managed to get past the barricades almost unhindered and had overturned police vehicles. One of the protest leaders, Nopporn Namchingtai, said the intention was to remain peaceful and that they were “trying to keep the situation under control and to avoid violence.”
“But at a certain stage this might no longer be possible,” he added. “When there’s a demonstration of this size it’s impossible to keep everyone together. We just want to give a few speeches. Let’s see what happens.”
Preparations for the ASEAN summit continued to go ahead despite the protests. At one point, the demonstrators had managed to block the road to the conference centre but they retreated.
Illegitimate government, say protesters
In an interview with the English programme of Al-Jazeera, one of the protest leaders,
Prachan Voonprachang from the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship, said they were demanding the “resignation of three members of the Privy Council, who I believe were responsible for engineering the coup."
"We have a lot of supporters, who will reinforce our presence at Royal Cliff Beach (in Pattaya), but the police have done everything possible to stop us."
The demonstrators across the country -- mainly supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted in a coup in 2006 -- claim that the current government is not legitimate. They insist Prime Minister Abhisit Veijajiva came to power undemocratically thanks to a court ruling that toppled Thaksin's allies in December.
PM refuses to bow down to pressure
On Thursday evening, Veijajiva refused to bow down to the demonstrator’s demands to resign in a television interview:
“I believe it would be highly inappropriate to dissolve parliament under the circumstances. It is not very probable that a democratic result would arise from new elections.“
The prime minister also said that the leaders of the demonstrations would be arrested if there was any unrest at the ASEAN summit in Pattaya.
Thaksin eggs on supporters
At the same time, Thaksin, who has been in self-imposed exile for two years now, made a videolink appearance to egg on his supporters. His appeal was broadcast on huge screens all over Bangkok: “I call on the people of Bangkok to join us and help democracy to victory,“ he said.
According to media reports, the Thai government has in recent days negotiated special powers to extradite Thaksin. But rumours that there could be an amnesty deal with him in return for an end to the protests have been denied.
Since the military coup in September 2006, two successive parties set up by Thaksin’s allies, which enjoy the support of Thailand’s rural population, have been banned on grounds of alleged vote-rigging. Thaksin’s supporters think that the rich and royalist elite of Bangkok are conspiring against them.