A Thai court has issued an arrest warrant against Suthep Thaugsuban, until recently the opposition leader in parliament, on charges of trying to topple the government. This follows intensifying street demos in Bangkok.
Suthep Thaugsuban, who quit his position in the opposition Democrat Party to lead public protests against Thailand's government, became subject of a third arrest warrant on Monday.
Deputy Metropolitan Commander Chayut Thanataweerat appeared on national television to say that Suthep was wanted "for the charge of insurrection which shall be punished with death or life imprisonment." This followed a defiant weekend address from Suthep, calling on people to join public protests and setting a deadline of Tuesday for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to resign.
Although theoretically available for the most serious of charges, the death penalty is rarely carried out in Thailand. Amnesty International recorded no executions in 2012 during its annual report on capital punishment around the world.
Suthep, 64, was already subject to an arrest warrant issued last week, on charges of orchestrating the occupation of government ministries, and another dating back to his time as deputy prime minister in 2010.
Suthep and his supporters are calling for the Thai government to be abolished and replaced with a "people's council," they seek the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck, accusing her of being a puppet of her older brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. She survived a no-confidence motion comparatively comfortably last week, owing to her Pheu Thai party's parliamentary majority.
Thaksin, ousted in a 2006 coup, is currently in self-imposed exile in Dubai, facing a 2008 jail sentence on corruption charges handed down in absentia. He dismisses the allegations as politically motivated and is still considered a key figure for the Pheu Thai party, which has not lost an election in Thailand in over a decade.
Protesters continued their marches on key government buildings in Bangkok on Monday, again clashing with police. The demonstrations were more modest than Sunday's, when an estimated 30,000 people took to the streets.
On Tuesday, authorities began removing concrete barriers and barbed wire around the police headquarters in an apparent attempt to avoid further clashes. Protesters were reportedly allowed to enter the headquarters without resistance.
Thailand's last major public unrest culminated in a military crackdown in 2010, when the army ultimately stopped pro-Thaksin demonstrations by force. So far, the army has stayed out of the current situation, providing only unarmed support to the police.
On Monday, Prime Minister Yingluck said she would "open every door" in search of a peaceful solution to the unrest. However, she also said the oppositions demands to dissolve the government "are impossible to meet under the framework of the [Thai] constitution."
Tensions began to flare early in November when the government tried and failed to pass legislation that would have exonerated former premier Thaksin.
Both Thailand's currency, the baht, and its benchmark stock market index made minor gains in Monday trading after losing ground amid the unrest last week.
msh/mkg (AFP, dpa, Reuters)