Plan to reclaim five key rally sites to begin this week
February 17, 2014 00:00 By The Nation
Protest leaders vow to defend rallies near Government House and other sites tomorrow
The government’s Centre for Maintaining Law and Order (CMPO) yesterday issued an ultimatum to anti-government protests, saying it will this week seek to reclaim five areas in Bangkok currently occupied by the protesters, CMPO chief Chalerm Yoobamrung said yesterday. Chalerm said the CMPO would refrain from using force but focus on negotiations – which would be televised via Channels 9 and 11 – to get People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protesters to withdraw from five sites. He did not specify when exactly the actions would be taken but the earliest operations may begin on Tuesday. These were protests near Government House, the Government Complex on Chaeng Wattana Road, on Rajdamnoen Avenue from Makkhawan Rangsan bridge to Phan Fah Lilat Bridge, the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Energy.
Chalerm was speaking before PDRC secretary general Suthep Thaugsuban vowed to block the Government House this morning. Chalerm said the government had exercised tolerance and restraint with the protesters for some time and had received complaints and requests from people affected by the protest that it take action against illegal gatherings. The CMPO may start the operation tomorrow. He pleaded with protesters in those five areas to withdraw and join the protests led by PDRC chief Suthep Thaugsuban at Pathumwan intersection or Lumpini Park. Chalerm said government intelligence agents had found some weapons were stored at the protest site near Government House and suspects wanted by police were allegedly hiding there. During the process to reclaim areas around Government House, if security officials hear any sound of gunfire, they had the right to protect themselves, he said. “I have ordered more police for this operation than at any other time. Police have the right to protect themselves if suspects wanted by police resist arrest.” Chalerm said he had sent Bangkok Police Chief Pol Lt Gen Camronwit Toopgrajank, plus Assistant National Police Chief Pol Maj-Gen Chaktip Chaichinda to negotiate with protesters many times but to no avail. He insisted the police abide by international standards in reclaiming the areas.
The CMPO chief denied that the government was responsible for an M79 attack at the Criminal Court on Ratchadapisek Road or bullets shot into the home of Pramon Sutheewong, chairman of an anti-corruption network.
He said police suspected that an ill-intentioned third party carried out these attacks to cast blame on the government.
Meanwhile, monastic protest leader, Phra Buddha Issara, agreed to open some roads near the Chaeng Wattana rally at 4pm.
After a televised negotiation with police, Luang Pu Buddha Issara agreed to open some roads near the Government Complex around the clock but asked the negotiator to guarantee the protesters’ safety. The monk said representatives would be appointed and sent to meet with the police in a few days. He would wait for police to set the schedule and make the appointment.
Luang Pu Buddha Issara negotiated with police via a video link. Police asked for the road to be opened and the monk asked if police would be responsible for injuries or any danger to the protesters if the road was opened, as requested.
The police said that proper measures would be adopted and they believed they would be able to keep situation under control.
Meanwhile, Nitithorn Lamlua, leader of the Students’ and People’s Reform for Thailand (SRT), said his group would not allow caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to resume work at Government House on Wednesday, warning there would be drama if the government went ahead with this plan.
He responded to Chalerm’s statement that if the SRT blocked the bid to disperse protesters, there would be fighting.
“I challenge Chalerm to fight me at the gate of Government House. I suggest that officials in this operation put their names and ranks clearly and do not bring in arms to destroy lives and property because we have only empty hands to deal with them,’’ he said.
Nitithorn called on police to not destroy goods or property of the protesters, such as paintings that could be auctioned for millions of baht on rally stages.
He believed thousands of protesters would pour into the protest site to block the police operation. “Please carry out your duty as police officers and not bandits, as you did in earlier in your previous operations,’’ he said.
Uthai Yodmani, an STR coordinator, said if Yingluck insisted on resuming work at Government House on Wednesday to fulfil her own superstition or black magic, there would definitely be further losses for the country. He insisted that the government had never offered to hold talks.
The anti-government movement has formed two rapid-deployment teams to hound Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and key members of the Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order. Witthaya Kaewparadai, a leader of the PDRC, said yesterday the teams would also shadow key Cabinet members to let know how the people feel about them.