Thailand Reeling from Bloody Weekend Clashes

BY Talea Miller  April 12, 2010 at 11:51 AM EDT

Bangkok, 4/12/2010
Thailand’s ruling party faced new calls for its dissolution Monday, following a bloody weekend that saw at least 21 people killed and 800 injured in heated clashes between protesters and riot police in Bangkok.

Thailand’s Election Commission ordered the party dissolved over allegations of misusing campaign donations, reported the Associated Press and the influential army chief Gen. Anupong Paochinda publicly backed dissolving the parliament as an option, according to the BBC.

“The problem will be resolved with House dissolution, but when to dissolve depends on the outcome of negotiations,” he said.

The Election Commission stated that there is sufficient evidence to bring charges against Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s party. The attorney-general’s office will now take it up and decide whether to refer the case to the Constitutional Court, which needs to endorse the ruling in order for it to take effect.

Simon Montlake of the Christian Science Monitor said from Bangkok that the timing of the ruling was unexpected because the case has been on the back-burner for several years.

“This may be actually a way to show to the protesters that the justice system is not stacked against them,” said Montlake. “But red shirts will also be wondering if it’s a tactic to persuade them to give up and go home.”

Prime Minister Abhisit cancelled a planned trip to Washington, D.C., for the nuclear security summit this week, as well as a meeting with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, to deal with the political crisis even before the violent events of the weekend.

Abhisit said in a statement Monday that a political solution must be used to end the protests, which have gone on for a month.

“I, the government and coalition parties have been working together to revise proposals discussed prior to announcing the emergency decree, in an attempt to find a political solution,” Abhisit said in a televised address.

But Montlake said it seems unlikely Abhist will resign.

“He seems to be sticking with his line that what happened on Saturday in his eyes and the eyes of his people who’ve spoken to the media was that they did nothing wrong,” said Montlake.

The government and protesters are blaming each other for the violence that erupted Saturday night, and the course of events is hotly contested by both sides. The military claims that rogue gunmen with the red shirt protestors fired on the soldiers, while red shirt leaders claim the military fired upon protestors who had no arms.

In Bangkok Monday, anti-government protesters paraded coffins through the street, calling for the prime minister’s resignation.

A Reuter’s cameraman Hiro Muramoto, was one of those killed during the demonstrations. A slideshow of some of the last images he captured can be found here.

Muramoto had arrived in Thailand Thursday and was killed Saturday from a gunshot wound to the chest, according to Reuters.

Protestors have vowed to continue rallying until the prime minister steps down, the latest chapter in a long struggle for power. Three governments have ruled Thailand since 2006, when then- Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted from power in a non-violent coup backed by the military.

A series of pro- and anti-Thaksin governments have traded power since then, with large demonstrations and the election commission often playing a key role.

Monday was the beginning of the week-long celebration of the Thai new year, so the streets of Bangkok have largely emptied out as people spend time at home, said Montlake.

“Normally it’s a very fun, joyful time,” he said. “This year it’s essentially canceled…it’s a very somber hollowed-out feeling.”