Thai prime minister's red-shirted supporters prepare to defend government on streets

Bangkok: Red-shirted supporters of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra have warned they are ready to take to the streets to protect her government from an elite-backed protest movement that claims to have seized power.

A meeting of 1000 red-shirt leaders has agreed to call on their supporters to rally in four provinces surrounding Bangkok if anti-government protest leaders continue to claim they are running the country through a so-called unelected “people’s council”.

Jatuporn Promphan, a leader of the red United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), said the red shirts would rally to the side of Ms Yingluck, who has called a snap election in an attempt to defuse the crisis that has paralysed her administration and left five people dead and more than 100 injured in street clashes.

“It is the UDD’s job to bring together en masse the red shirts and those who love democracy,” Mr Jatuporn said, adding that many more people would come out to support Ms Yingluck than the anti-government protesters who have been rallying for almost two weeks in Bangkok.

Asked what would bring the red shirts onto the streets, Mr Jatuporn said “when chaos ensues” or when the anti-government side “uses violent methods to gain power”.

Arnon Saenan, secretary-general of the Red Village movement who attended the red shirt leaders' meeting at Buri Ram Ratjabhat University in north-eastern Thailand, said claims by protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban to have established a separate government are “unconstitutional and undemocratic”.

For weeks the red shirts, who have mass support in the country’s northern and north-eastern provinces, have shown restraint as protests grew in Bangkok.

They cut short a rally at a stadium on the outskirts of the capital on December 1 after clashes nearby and postponed a mass demonstration planned last Tuesday for Ayutthaya, north of Bangkok.

Meanwhile, leading Thai academics have denounced the declaration of the so-called parallel government that has begun making audacious demands, including that Ms Yingluck be prosecuted for treason.

A group of 150 academics in a newly formed group called the Assembly of the Defence of Democracy said the establishment of a people’s council is “illegally impossible, undemocratic and amounted to a coup”.

Kasian Tejapira, an associate professor of history at Bangkok’s Thammasat University and a member of the group, said the scheme by Mr Suthep would give absolute power to the military and elite.

“Imposing only their own values and replacing the people’s elected government with an elite and middle class-dominated people’s council would only pave the way for more bloodshed and violence,” he said.

Mr Suthep, a former deputy prime minister in the previous military-backed government, claims he has set up a government with volunteer peacekeepers to replace police who he has ordered back to barracks.

He also claims his government has a separate foreign policy and a central committee that has begun dispensing orders.

But the reality is that no parallel government exists and his protest movement now holds no ground after protesters on Monday vacated a government complex to focus on demonstrations outside Government House, which houses the Prime Minister’s evacuated offices.

“This is a combustible situation. We cannot have two governments in Bangkok running Thailand,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of Chulalongkorn’s Institute of Security and International Studies.

“Something has to give.”

Analysts say Mr Suthep’s movement would need intervention by the military or judiciary to implement his scheme, which has happened in the past.

But army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has repeatedly said he will not intervene and has urged talks aimed at ending the crisis.

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