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Thailand’s Yingluck Shinawatra rejects call to resign
Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has rejected opposition calls to step down from power as protesters clashed with police for a second day in the capital Bangkok.
Ms Yingluck told a televised news conference on Monday that she would seek to “open every door’’ for negotiations to find a peaceful resolution to Thailand’s biggest political crisis in years after opposition leaders issued an ultimatum calling for her to resign within two days.
Her comments came amid reports that police had fired tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets at thousands of protesters trying to seize government buildings in Bangkok on Monday.
Suthep Thaugsuban, leader of the protesters, issued the deadline for Ms Yingluck to leave office after police fought back protesters who tried to storm the premier’s office and other high-profile buildings on Sunday.
Mr Suthep’s ultimatum and the failure of his self-styled “people’s uprising” to deliver “victory day” on Sunday has switched attention to the role of the military, which has intervened in Thai politics before to topple governments even when protests did not enjoy overwhelming popular support.
Ms Yingluck insisted on Monday that the military had “positioned itself as neutral and it wants to see a peaceful way out” of the protests.
Mr Suthep claimed he had met Ms Yingluck on Sunday in a meeting arranged by the military, but said there were no talks to end the worst political conflict in Thailand since a 2010 confrontation that left scores dead and paralysed parts of Bangkok for two months.
“I told Yingluck that if police put down their weapons, we will welcome them as they are also Thai,” said Mr Suthep, in an address to supporters late on Sunday. “I told Yingluck that this will be our only meeting and we will not meet again until the people win.”
There was no immediate confirmation of Mr Suthep’s claims from either the prime minister’s office or the army. The protest leader, who is fighting what he says are politically driven murder charges over the deaths of protesters when he was in government in 2010, called for a civil servants’ strike on Monday.
There was an uneasy calm in Bangkok on Monday morning, with speculation rife about how events would play out after protesters besieged Government House – home of the prime minister’s office – over-ran the state television station and forced Ms Yingluck to flee to an undisclosed location.
The government has called on people to observe a voluntary curfew between 10pm and 5am, after overnight gun and knife battles in the east of the city killed at least three people and wounded 58. Several universities in the capital said they would close on Monday for security reasons, although many businesses and offices were open as normal after the protests.
The Thai baht fell 0.7 per cent in early trading, underlining nervousness about the impact of the demonstrations at a time when the economy is weakening.
The showdown is the latest battle in a long-running confrontation between supporters and opponents of Thaksin Shinawatra, a fugitive former prime minister and the older brother of Ms Yingluck.
The self-exiled ex-premier – who faces a 2008 conviction on corruption-related charges that he says are political motivated – has been a lightning rod for a longstanding power struggle in Thailand, pitting his bloc of supporters from the poor rural north against the educated elite and their southern allies.
Government House was seen as a likely flashpoint of the confrontation again on Monday. Police there used tear gas and water cannon on Sunday to fight back protesters who chanted “Thaksin out! Yingluck out!” and in some cases threw rocks and petrol bombs.
Source: By Michael Peel in Bangkok, Financial Times Asia Pacific
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