Thailand braves jittery weekend as Suthep renews push for unelected government 

Anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban speaks to his supporters after a news conference outside the Government House in Bangkok on May 10, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban speaks to his supporters after a news conference outside the Government House in Bangkok on May 10, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

THAILAND's opposition protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban on Saturday calls for a new interim government to be appointed by the newly convened Senate, the Election Commission and senior judges, as thousands of pro-government red shirts gather in the capital to denounce his calls.

Reading out a statement amid a throng of many hundreds under a covered tent outside Government House - the seat of the prime minister abandoned several weeks ago in the face of street protests - Mr Suthep told his supporters again that the government had lost its authority.

The People's Democratic Reform Committee (Pdrc) leader said the new caretaker prime minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan, appointed by the ruling Puea Thai party after Ms Yingluck Shinawatra was disqualified by a court last Wednesday, did not have the authority to submit the request for a Royal Decree calling for an election on July 20.

He renewed his push for the Senate to propose a new prime minister by Monday - the end of a 72-hour deadline he had proposed on Friday night. He also insisted that reforms must be achieved before people could return to the polls.

But caretaker prime minster Niwatthamrong said his cabinet was bound under the constitution to continue working.

"The government will continue its duty until the election,'' he told reporters.

Meanwhile thousands of pro-government "red shirt'' supporters streamed to a site on the western edge of Bangkok in a show of strength, with leaders saying they were prepared to "protect democracy".

Speaking to reporters, Mr Jatuporn Promphan, chair of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) - an umbrella group for the broad ranging red shirt movement that helped power the Puea Thai to a win in a general election in 2011 - questioned the legality of the election of the new Senate Speaker on Friday, in which an anti-government Senator was chosen for the critical position.

And he said if the president of the Supreme Court met with Mr Suthep it would constitute a crime. Mr Suthep has been charged with insurrection.

Red shirt leaders said their fight would remain peaceful. But with militants on both sides, and violent incidents having taken well over 25 lives and left several hundred injured in some six months of street protests, analysts fear escalating violence.

The almost decade-long conflict pitting Bangkok's old elites and royalist middle class, and conservative Democrat Party supporters, against the populist billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, whom they claim is a closet Republican who buys elections by seducing upcountry masses with money and promises, has deeply divided Thailand and comes as anxiety rises over the Royal succession, with King Bhumibol Adulyadej a frail 86 years old.

On Saturday, Pdrc protesters also remained parked at several TV stations, trying to force them to cover Pdrc statements and ignore government announcements.

Separately, Mr Brad Adams, Asia director of the independent, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), said: "Pdrc protesters' occupation of television stations and threats against the media are not only illegal, but show an ugly disregard for freedom of the press."

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