Thai PM rejects poll ultimatum

BANGKOK: Thailand’s prime minister

today rejected an ultimatum by tens of thousands of protesters who had besieged the army barracks where he was holed up to demand immediate elections.

The “Red Shirt” demonstrators, loyal to deposed premier Thaksin Shinawatra, had massed in front of a military barracks on the northern outskirts of Bangkok where the government and top military brass had taken refuge amid fears of violence by saboteurs.

The so-far peaceful rally took a violent turn after Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva rejected their demand and left the base by helicopter, when four grenades hit a separate barracks across the city.

The explosions injured one soldier on the arm and the other in the stomach, army spokesman Colonel Sunsern Kaewkumnerd said. “Initially we suspect that the grenades were fired from a car,” said Sunsern, adding it was not clear who was responsible.

Earlier Abhisit made a nationally televised address to reject the red-clad crowd’s demand, saying: “the coalition parties agree the demand cannot be met”.

“Elections must be held under common rules and genuine calm. We have to listen to other people’s voices, not just the protesters’,” the prime minister said.

The Red Shirts, many from poor and rural northern areas who rail against the perceived elitism of the current government, are loyal to populist former prime minister Thaksin, who was ousted in a coup in 2006 and is living abroad, mostly in Dubai, to avoid a jail term for corruption.

The rally today moved to the army barracks, where Sunsern said about 2,000 soldiers were providing security with three helicopters on standby, before they returned to their original site near government offices.

In a bizarre development, protest leader Nattawut Saikur said the Red Shirts would each let a small amount of blood tomorrow and spill it at the gates of Government House in a show of their fierce determination. Twice-elected Thaksin is loathed by Bangkok’s establishment, which accuses him of corruption and disloyalty to the revered royal family.

Some banks and schools in the city were closed as the protest picked up pace over the weekend and Thailand’s tourism authority said 37 countries had issued warnings on travel to Bangkok. The Red Shirts travelled in convoy between the barracks and their original rally site in trucks, buses, cars and pick-up trucks.

The pro-Thaksin forces had dubbed their rally a “million man march” but police estimated their numbers reached only 86,000. Protest leaders gave various figures, all far higher than 100,000.

Thaksin spotted in Montenegro

PODGORICA: Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, on the run from corruption charges, was spotted in the Montenegrin town of Budva this weekend, a local TV station reported on Monday. Thaksin was seen in coastal Budva’s medieval old town on Sunday, enjoying coffee and cakes in one of the area’s posh hotels with his entourage, TV Vijesti reported, quoting witnesses. Police refused to comment the reports. According to press reports Thaksin, a former telecoms tycoon, has a Montenegrin passport but so far officials in this former Yugoslav republic have refused to confirm if he has been given citizenship.