Moves to impeach Thai PM

2010-05-24 21:36

Bangkok - Opposition leaders moved to impeach Thailand's prime minister on Monday for his handling of rioting and violence in Bangkok, and an army official said the capital would remain under curfew for another week as a precaution against further unrest.

The impeachment measure and a move to censure top Cabinet officials was expected to be easily defeated. But it reflects deep rifts that divide the country after two months of protests that left at least 88 dead and the Thai capital in flames.

With traffic once again choking the Bangkok streets, the stock exchange, schools and many offices opened for the first time after a week of government-ordered holidays.

Thousands of residents bearing mops, brooms and rubbish bins joined in a citywide effort to clean up after the riots.

Still, authorities in charge of the government's crisis response centre said they would propose extending a late-night curfew on the capital, which remains under a state of emergency, and other volatile areas for another week or so.

"The purpose of the curfew is to separate the terrorists from the public," said army spokesperson Sansern Kaewkamnerd.

He said the late hours of the curfew would not cause significant disturbances to the public.

The Cabinet was to meet on Tuesday to approve the extension.

Abused power

Opposition whip Wittaya Buranasiri said the motion to impeach Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was introduced by the opposition Pheu Thai Party - allies of ousted former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, whom the anti-government Red Shirt protesters generally support.

It also sought to censure several of his top Cabinet members.

Members of the Pheu Thai allege Abhisit and his deputy prime minister abused their power in using force in their crackdown on the protests.

The motions underscore a growing political and social rift that has opened up since the Red Shirt movement swept into Bangkok in March, demanding Abhisit resign and call early elections.

The Red Shirts want Abhisit out because they claim he came to power illegitimately with the help of back-room deals and military pressure.

The latest round of unrest came to a head when Red Shirt protesters moved into Bangkok's central business district, building bamboo-and-tire barricades and controlling checkpoints that crippled one of the city's most important shopping and tourism areas.

While the protests themselves were generally peaceful, several shootings and grenade attacks were blamed on a militant Red Shirt wing. Two military crackdowns led to deadly street clashes between soldiers and protesters.

At least 88 people - mostly Red Shirts who were shot - died in protest-related violence.

Red Shirt leaders caught

All but one of the top Red Shirt leadership were in custody on Monday after the surrender of two more key figures. Another leader was expected to surrender on Tuesday.

"There are no reports about a new gathering and I don't think there will be a new gathering," said Vichai Sangprapai, the metropolitan police commander.

But the nation's deputy prime minister warned the movement behind the protests is still a threat. Abhisit has also accused Red Shirt followers of planning further protests and violence.

Hoping to appease the protesters, he earlier this month offered to hold elections on November 14 but that plan fell through when Red Shirt leaders made more demands.

Abhisit now says elections will not be held until the threat of violence is completely quelled.

Elections are seen as a key step toward healing the divide between supporters of the Oxford-educated Abhisit and the Red Shirts, who are made up mainly of the urban and rural poor.

In a bit of good news for the government, it was announced on Monday that Thailand's economy grew at its fastest pace in 15 years in the first quarter as exports recovered.

But the government's National Economic and Social Development Board said the unrest will hit tourism, slow household spending and private investment, and cause delays in government spending.

The number of tourists this year is likely to fall short of the 16 million target by 3 million, which would represent an 8% fall from 2009, the agency said.

Revenue from tourism will be about $3.5bn short of expectations.

Thai stocks were down 2.77% Monday despite gains in most other Asian markets.