- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2008


Government supporters from the Thai countryside converged on the capital Sunday, in a counter to rival protesters who seized control of Bangkok’s two airports and forced the prime minister to run the country from afar.

Neither the army nor Thailand’s revered king has stepped in to resolve the crisis - or offered the firm backing that Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat needs to resolve the leadership vacuum.

The problem runs deeper than the airport closures, which have stranded up to 100,000 travelers, strangled the key tourism industry and affected airline schedules worldwide. Political violence has added to the sense of drift bordering on anarchy that pervades the country’s administration.

Explosions on Sunday hit the prime minister’s compound, which protesters from the People’s Alliance for Democracy have held since August, an anti-government television station, and a road near the main entrance to the occupied domestic airport. At least 51 people were injured, officials said.

No one claimed responsibility, but Suriyasai Katasila, a spokesman for the protest group, blamed the government.

Afterward, senior protest leader Chamlong Srimuang met with Bangkok police chief Lt. Gen. Suchart Muankaew. The two agreed to have police and protesters jointly patrol protest sites at the prime minister’s office and Don Muang domestic airport.

“It was not a negotiation to end the protest. We discussed how to improve the security situation by patrolling together,” Mr. Chamlong told reporters.

The alliance says it will not give up until Mr. Somchai resigns, accusing him of being a puppet of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the alliance’s original target. Mr. Thaksin, who is Mr. Somchai’s brother-in-law, was deposed in a 2006 military coup and has fled the country to escape corruption charges.

Thousands of government supporters wearing red shirts, headbands and bandanas joined a Sunday rally against the protest alliance. Some danced and clapped to music blaring from loudspeakers. They have adopted red to distinguish themselves from their yellow-garbed rivals.

“This is a movement against anarchical force and the people behind it,” government spokesman Nattawut Sai-Kua told the Associated Press. “They want anarchy so that the army is forced to intervene and stage a coup.”

But the army, which overthrew Mr. Thaksin among other previous coups, says it has no plans to oust Mr. Somchai. Still, the military’s failure to back up Mr. Somchai’s efforts to restore order give the impression it alone will decide how the situation will be resolved.

Also distancing himself from the crisis has been revered 80-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who as a constitutional monarch plays no open role in politics but who has healed social fractures in the past.

“No one else can fix this. The country is so divided. The only uniting figure we have is the king. If he tells both sides to step back, they will,” said 36-year-old coffee shop owner Natta Siritanond.



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