Col Suraphol Tapananont addresses protesters outside Royal Thai Army headquarters in Bangkok (photo by Stephen Steele)
More than 1,000 anti-government protestors today stormed the compound of the Royal Thai Army headquarters in Bangkok, where a series of demonstrations pushing for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to step down have paralyzed parts of the city.
The move comes on the same day that thousands of protestors who largely back the opposition Democrat Party marched on the Prime Minister’s office. Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, who was deputy prime minister when the Democrats held power up to the 2010 elections, has called on followers to occupy all government ministries.
Security personnel at the compound on Rachadamnoen Nok Road reportedly stepped aside as protesters broke through the front gate around midday and occupied the compound’s front lawn. Army officials were presented with a list that includes a demand that the army announce whether it supports the protesters or the incumbent government.
The storming of the compound marks an escalation in the biggest political crisis to rock Thailand since the 2010 protests against the former government. Unlike past mass demonstrations, security forces have been markedly restrained in the hope that the energy will fizzle out in the coming week, as the revered King’s birthday approaches on December 5.
Doctored posters of beheaded government ministers and graffiti insulting Yingluck and daubed on walls in the Finance Ministry, occupied earlier this week, show that the anger remains strong.
“We want Yingluck and her family to leave the country forever and never to come back, to never hurt the country again,” said Chompunoot Tosinthiti, 60, a member of the People’s Alliance for Democracy, who was at the army compound this afternoon.
She added however that protestors also had little faith that the Democrat Party could drastically improve the political situation in Thailand. “All elements of Thai civil society need to be reformed, otherwise corruption will continue,” she said.
Suthep, for whom an arrest warrant has been issued, has refused calls for dialogue with Yingluck, the sister of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The first round of protests began three weeks ago after the government attempted to pass an amnesty bill that would have exonerated Thaksin, a business tycoon who was found guilty of corruption in 2008, and allowed him to return to Thailand. It would have also reversed the sentencing of those in the security forces found guilty of killing more than 90 protesters in 2010.
The bill failed to pass, but nevertheless ignited an opposition that accuses Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party of continuing the same trend of duplicity and malfeasance that her brother was accused of during his time in office.
Suthep has stated the ultimate goal of the protests is to rid Thailand of “Thaksinism”, but critics have countered that the same crimes he is accused of have long been practiced by the Democrats, and that any attempt to stamp out an ideology held by a vast countrywide Pheu Thai support base would inevitably turn bloody.