Protest season in Thailand after Obama visit

Thousands of protesters called for the overthrow of the Thai government on Saturday and demanded an end to "corrupt politics" in the first major demonstration against prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra's administration since it assumed power last year.

While many of the 10,000 protestors gathered peacefully around a stage set up near the Royal plaza in Bangkok, others repeatedly tried and failed to charge past concrete police barricades and, at one point, attempted to drive a truck straight into the barricades as well.

Protesters and riot police were seen throwing tear gas back and forth at one another in sometimes fierce standoff. Five officers were hurt, two of them seriously, and 130 protestors were detained by the rally's end at dusk. Around 45 protestors were treated in hospital, mainly for tear gas inhalation.

Saturday's rally was organised by a pro-monarchy group called "Patik Siam" (Protect Thailand), led by retired army general Boonlert Kaewprasit, which denounces Yingluck's government as a corrupt puppet administration of her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

From the central stage that faced the parliament building, Boonlert incited chants of "Yingluck, get out!" and told protestors: "I promise that Pitak Siam will succeed in driving this government out."

Thaksin's own administration was deposed in a 2006 army coup after rallies by the pro-monarchy "yellow shirt" movement ousted his administration. Four years later, mass protests led by pro-Thaksin supporters sparked a lethal crackdown that left nearly 2,000 wounded and around 90 people dead.

While Yingluck won by a landslide in 2011 elections, simmering political tensions still run high. Pitak Siam is a new group in Thailand's protestscene, and is linked to the yellow-shirt movement – although it does not yet seem to be as popular as its leaders would like.

Various rumours circulated ahead of Saturday's rally, among them a threat that Yingluck would be taken hostage and that as many as a million protestors would take to the streets to call for her resignation. Citing safety concerns, the government deployed some 17,000 police and invoked an internal security act that allowed for road closures, curfews and the ban of electronic devices in certain areas.
The "yellow shirts" have traditionally been the urban elites who are unhappy that rural voters out number them and generally win elections.  That means they usually need the army to help them seize power, but they have not been able to hold it very long as international pressure usually calls for an election which they will lose.  Yingluck has actually done a pretty descent job since she was elected.  She seemed poised and in good spirits during Obama's visit to the region.  Thailand is probably the most stable government in Southeast Asia.


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