Tensions flare as protesters urge Thai PM to quit

Updated 24 November 2012
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Tensions flare as protesters urge Thai PM to quit

BANGKOK: Thai police on Saturday fired tear gas and detained dozens of demonstrators as clashes erupted at the first major street protests against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government.
The violence, while relatively small scale, appeared to mark a new phase in Thailand’s long-running political crisis pitting Thai royalists against ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra — Yingluck’s brother — and his supporters.
About 17,000 police officers were deployed for the rally in Bangkok’s historic district, which was organized by the royalist group Pitak Siam (Protecting Siam), a relatively new force in the kingdom’s fractured political scene.
“In the name of Pitak Siam and its allies I promise that we will topple this government,” the movement’s head, retired general Boonlert Kaewprasit, declared from the rally stage.
But the estimated attendance of about 20,000 fell far short of the half a million organizers had hoped for, and by early evening as rain began to fall Boonlert called off the protest, which had been due to last until Sunday.
“I can’t afford to lose even one life so I declare the rally over,” he announced.
The demo comes two and a half years after 90 people died and about 1,900 were wounded in a military crackdown on “Red Shirt” protests in the heart of the capital against the previous government, which was replaced by Yingluck’s administration last year.
Earlier Saturday tensions flared as police fired several rounds of tear gas at protesters trying to ram through barriers near the main rally site in the Royal Plaza using a truck.
“Tear gas was used in one area because protesters did not comply with the rules,” said national police spokesman Major General Piya Uthayo.
About 100 protesters were detained while knives and bullets were confiscated, he said.
Forty-two people, including seven police officers, were treated for cuts and other injuries, officials said.
The authorities called in an extra 5,700 police after the clashes, but allowed the rally to go ahead at the main protest site, the Royal Plaza.
Yingluck on Thursday voiced fears the protesters aimed to use violence and to “overthrow an elected government and democratic rule.”
The government invoked the Internal Security Act (ISA) in three districts of the capital to cope with possible unrest, giving the police additional powers to block routes, impose a curfew, ban gatherings and carry out searches.
Thailand has been rocked by a series of sometimes violent rival street protests in recent years, although an uneasy calm had returned after national elections in 2011.
At their height, the Red Shirt rallies in 2010 drew about 100,000 people demanding the resignation of the previous government and the return of Thaksin, who was toppled by royalist generals in a coup in 2006.
Thaksin, who made billions as a telecoms tycoon, is adored by many poor Thais for his populist policies while in power, but reviled by many in elite, military and palace circles who see him as authoritarian and a threat to the monarchy.
The demonstrators at Saturday’s rally, who included supporters of the influential “Yellow Shirt” royalist movement, called on Yingluck’s government to stand down.
“I can’t stand that they disrespect the king. I want the government to quit,” said 48-year-old farmer Namsai Jantarat from the northern province of Chiang Mai.
The Red Shirts threatened to strike back in the event of a new coup.
“This rally is illegitimate,” Red Shirt leader Thida Thavornseth said at a news conference Saturday. “We will come out in force if there is any sign of a coup or the government loses control.”


British PM faces Brexit showdown with pro-EU rebels

Updated 20 June 2018
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British PM faces Brexit showdown with pro-EU rebels

  • MPs will vote on amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill setting out how much power lawmakers will have if the government fails to agree a departure deal before Brexit in March 2019
  • The vote, due on Wednesday afternoon or early evening, could have implications for Britain’s wider Brexit strategy, indicating where the power lies in parliament

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May faces a showdown with her pro-EU MPs on Wednesday over parliament’s role in the final Brexit deal, which could influence her entire negotiation strategy.
MPs will vote on amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill setting out how much power lawmakers will have if the government fails to agree a departure deal before Brexit in March 2019.
May says she expects to get an agreement with Brussels, but warned that any attempt to tie her hands could undermine the ongoing negotiations.
She averted a rebellion by pro-EU MPs in her Conservative Party on the issue of parliamentary powers last week with a promise of a compromise, but within days they had rejected her proposal as inadequate.
Instead they worked with peers to introduce their own amendment to the unelected upper House of Lords, which agreed it by a landslide on Monday.
The amendment now returns to MPs in the elected lower House of Commons, where Conservative rebels will ally with opposition parties in a bid to finally make it law.
May’s spokesman refused to say if he believes the government has the numbers to win the vote, but made clear that no more concessions would be forthcoming.
“We cannot accept the amendment on a meaningful vote agreed in the Lords,” he said, adding that it “would undermine our ability in the negotiations to get the best deal for the country.”
“We will be retabling our original amendment,” he said, adding: “We hope that all MPs will be able to support the government’s position.”
The vote, due on Wednesday afternoon or early evening, could have implications for Britain’s wider Brexit strategy, indicating where the power lies in parliament.
May commands only a slim majority in the 650-seat Commons, made possible through an alliance with Northern Ireland’s 10 Democratic Unionist Party MPs.
A victory for the pro-EU rebels would embolden them ahead of debates next month on Britain’s future trading relationship with the European Union, which they are seeking to keep as close as possible.
It would likely anger euroskeptics, who accuse the rebels of seeking to thwart Brexit.
They are also becoming increasingly frustrated with the withdrawal process under May’s leadership.
Leading Conservative rebel Dominic Grieve denied he was trying to undermine the government or stop Brexit, but warned that if parliament rejected the final Brexit deal, there would be a crisis.
“That’s what wakes me up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat,” he told Sky News television.
“The very reason I’ve prompted this amendment is to provide a mechanism to make sure that we don’t come to government collapse immediately.”
But euroskeptic Conservative MP Graham Stringer said Grieve and his supporters were only interested in “sabotaging the whole process.”
“The purpose of the latest Grieve ruse is to give parliament the power to delay or stop Brexit,” he said.
Despite agreement on Britain’s financial settlement and EU citizens’ rights, the Brexit talks are progressing slowly, and there are few hopes of a breakthrough at an EU summit later this month.
Both sides are still publicly aiming for an agreement in October, but this is looking more and more difficult.
Negotiations are currently stalled on how to avoid border checks between Northern Ireland, a part of the UK, and neighboring EU member Ireland when Britain develops its own trade and customs policies.
“Serious divergences” remain over Northern Ireland, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said Tuesday after a final round of talks between London and Brussels ahead of the European summit.
The British government has also yet to decide on what it wants from the future economic relationship.
It has been clear about one area, security cooperation — but many of its proposals were on Tuesday knocked back by Barnier.
He said Britain could not stay in the European Arrest Warrant, take part in meetings of policing agency Europol or access EU-only police databases.
“We need more realism about what is and what is not possible,” he said.