Last updated: November 25, 2012 7:01 pm

Bangkok clashes stoke ‘red-yellow’ fears

Clashes in central Bangkok between police and anti-government demonstrators have led analysts to warn about a revival of the “red-yellow divide” in Thailand that led to bloody street violence in 2010.

Police arrested more than 130 demonstrators – some carrying knives – who tried to breach security barricades after 15,000 supporters of royalist group Pitak Siam gathered in a public space near Bangkok’s parliament building on Saturday.

Unlike protests in 2010, however, when nearly 100 protesters were killed and more than 2,000 injured in some of the country’s worst street violence, the weekend protests appeared to be aimed at firing up supporters ahead of a three-day censure debate in parliament that begins on Monday.

The opposition Democrats, who are outnumbered nearly two to one in parliament by the ruling Pheu Thai party and its allies, have filed a motion claiming the government of Yingluck Shinawatra, the prime minister, is unfit to rule.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, Democrat leader and former prime minister, said at the weekend the censure debate would “provide a democratic means to examine the government’s work” and said his party would question the prime minister and her cabinet about the government’s controversial subsidy scheme for rice farmers and flood relief spending, among other topics.

The royalist Pitak Siam group, led by retired military general Boonlert Kaewprasit, is loosely connected to the “yellow shirt” movement that supported the Democrats following the 2006 military coup that ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, brother of Ms Yingluck. Mr Thaksin’s supporters wear red shirts at protests.

General Boonlert recently called for another military coup, saying only such action would resolve the country’s problems. At Saturday’s rally, Gen Boonlert denounced Ms Yingluck’s government for corruption and incompetence, saying: “I promise that Pitak Siam will succeed in driving this government out.”

Up to now, his calls for military action have not drawn support from mainstream opposition supporters.

“At this stage, it’s more of a serious concern than a serious threat,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political-science professor at Chulalongkorn University. Like other analysts, including private sector economists, Mr Thitinan has highlighted the relative stability of recent months under Ms Yingluck and the strong economic recovery from devastating floods last year.

However, many commentators believe that tensions between red and yellow camps will come to a head over issues such as moves by the Pheu Thai party to amend the constitution drawn up under the previous military-backed government and to overturn corruption-related charges against Mr Thaksin.

The Yingluck government has moved quickly to head off further turmoil. In a move criticised in local media as excessive, the government imposed emergency measures including curfews and road closures in several districts around the protest site, near parliament.

Defending the extra security measures, Ms Yingluck denounced the protest leaders in a nationally televised address, saying they “seek to overthrow an elected government and democratic rule . . . and there is evidence that violence may be used to achieve those ends”.

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