Thaksin protesters shut down Thailand’s largest bank
BANGKOK — Thousands of protesters forced Thailand’s biggest bank to close its headquarters Friday, raising tensions one week before a court ruling on the fortune of ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Bangkok Bank shut its head office for the day and sent 3,000 staff home because of the rally by Thaksin’s supporters, who say the bank has links to a royal aide whom they blame for the 2006 coup that toppled their idol.
Police said around 1,500 demonstrators had gathered in Bangkok’s Silom business district. The protest movement, known as the “Red Shirts” because of their signature clothing, said 10,000 attended.
“Bangkok Bank is a capitalist institution which has destroyed our democracy,” Red Shirt speaker Worawuth Wichaidit told the crowd from a stage.
The Red Shirts said former prime minister Prem Tinsulanonda, who is now the chief adviser to Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, used to be Bangkok Bank’s chief adviser and continues to have ties to it.
They accuse Prem of masterminding the September 2006 putsch. Telecoms tycoon Thaksin is now living abroad to avoid a two-year jail term imposed in absentia in 2008 for corruption relating to a land deal.
“Prem is the one who has caused our country to collapse,” Worawuth added.
More than three years after the coup Thailand remains deeply split between Thaksin’s supporters in the country’s rural heartland and his foes among the Bangkok-based elites of the palace, military and bureaucracy.
Protests by his supporters and the anti-Thaksin “Yellow Shirts” have hurt the kingdom’s economy, shutting down Bangkok’s airports in late 2008, and sometimes descended into violence.
“A turning point is about to be reached in Thai history. We are determined to see democracy, human rights and equal justice,” said another key Red Shirt, Sean Boonpracong.
Thailand’s Supreme Court is due to rule on February 26 on whether the 2.2-billion-dollar fortune of Thaksin, frozen in the months after the coup, can be seized by the authorities.
The government has deployed 20,000 extra security forces around the country ahead of the verdict in case protests turn violent. Last weekend a bomb was defused near the court, while a grenade exploded near government offices.
The Red Shirts have said they plan to hold further rallies against the government of current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
Riots by the movement in April last year left two people dead.
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