Violent demonstrations have Thailand’s prime minister on the run

Rocks are flying in Thailand.
Rocks are flying in Thailand.
Image: REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
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Maybe now tourists will think twice about Thailand: Protests against the government there have turned violent and forced the prime minister into hiding.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was forced to leave her offices in Bangkok’s Government House and head for an “undisclosed location” after protesters threatened to storm the building. Clashes between anti- and pro-government demonstrators have left four dead and dozens wounded and have troops descending on the capital, though many areas of the sprawling city are reportedly unaffected by the conflict.

The prime minister is the sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire and former prime minister who himself was forced from office in a 2006 coup and is now in exile in Dubai, where he still wields significant influence in his home country. Demonstrators upset with the family’s control over Thai politics launched a major effort Sunday to topple the government after a week-long civil disobedience campaign. These efforts escalated into violence on around a November 30 rally of tens of thousands of red-shirted, pro-Shinawatra protestors that was eventually called off, but not before attacks on the participants led to the arrival of the military in the city.

The latest upheaval reflects the conflict that has animated Thai politics for the last decade between the mostly rural supporters of Shinawatra’s populist party and the urban establishment represented by the Democratic party. Thai observers are looking ahead to December 5th, the 86th birthday of the country’s waning monarch, Bhumibol Adulyadej, an occasion typically marked by unity. This year, it will call attention to the country’s unstable and not-quite-democratic politics.