Sunday, April 19, 2009

Thai Anti-Thaksin Protester Recovers After Shooting (Update1)

Sondhi Limthongkul, the Thai protest leader who helped oust three prime ministers, was recovering after being shot in a murder attempt that’s shaken confidence in the government’s ability to restore security.

“This attempted murder raises concerns of further violence,” Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said in comments broadcast on state-owned television today. “We still need to maintain the state of emergency. We need to have complete peace and order before it’s lifted.”

Abhisit is seeking to ease political tension before lifting emergency rule imposed a week ago in Bangkok to disperse a rival set of protesters who want him to resign. Sondhi, whose group seized Bangkok’s two airports last year, leads opposition to former Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra, now living in exile.

Gunmen sprayed Sondhi’s car with more than 50 bullets in the April 17 dawn attack in Bangkok, police said. Sondhi, 61, who operates a television station, had surgery to remove a piece of metal from his head, said Parnthep Pourpongpan, a spokesman for Sondhi’s People’s Alliance for Democracy, which supports Prime Minister Abhisit.

Resolution Needed

“This will obviously give the government a reason to maintain a state of emergency,” said Chris Baker, a Bangkok- based political analyst. “It’s important to bring different political groups together to find a resolution through debate as quickly as possible.”

Nobody claimed responsibility for the attack on Sondhi, said Suporn Panseau, a Bangkok police spokesman. The shooting was almost certainly by a rival political group, Parnthep said.

Prolonged unrest may deter foreign investment just as the Thai economy confronts its first annual contraction in 11 years.

The two sets of color-coded protesters demarcate a polarization in Thai society between the poor rural majority, who voted in Thaksin, and the Bangkok-based elite, which doesn’t want elections to fully determine who holds power.

More than two gunmen were involved in the attack on Sondhi, in which an M-16 automatic rifle was fired from a pickup truck, said King Kwangvisetchaisri, the police officer in charge of the district where the shooting occurred. Sondhi’s bodyguard and driver were also injured. Police have identified some of the suspects and will arrest them soon, The Nation newspaper reported, citing people it didn’t identify.

‘No More Violence’

Sondhi will probably leave hospital in 10 days, Chaiwan Charoenchoketavee, a director at Vajira, said April 17. Sondhi operates a private cable television station and previously ran Manager Media Group Pcl, a Bangkok-based publisher of newspapers and magazines.

“Nobody wants this to happen,” Pongthep Thepkanjana, Thaksin’s spokesman, said by telephone from Bangkok. “No one wants to see more violence.” Emergency rule was imposed in Bangkok after Thaksin’s supporters stormed an Asian leaders’ summit that Abhisit was hosting, forcing its cancellation. The group typically dons red shirts to distinguish themselves from Sondhi’s followers, who wear yellow to signify their loyalty to King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Red or Yellow

The Red Shirts claim Abhisit’s administration lacks legitimacy because he came to power after the courts disbanded the former ruling party for vote-buying. Sondhi’s Yellow Shirts held demonstrations against Thaksin before he was ousted in a 2006 coup and staged a 192-day campaign last year that helped remove two more governments linked to the former leader.

Sondhi and his supporters ended their blockade of airports and government offices in December after a court forced out then-Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat and dissolved his party. Sondhi supported Thaksin’s rise to power in 2001 before turning against him four years later. He alleged that Thaksin was corrupt, while the ousted leader said Sondhi was upset he wasn’t awarded a television license.

Thaksin urged the Red Shirts to be part of reconciliation talks with the government, the Associated Press reported on April 16, citing an interview with him from Dubai. Police this week issued arrest warrants for Thaksin and other protest leaders on charges of inciting the demonstrations.

The former premier flew to Nicaragua from United Arab Emirates, where he had spent a month, the Bangkok Post reported yesterday, citing Arabian Business. Nicaragua gave Thaksin a passport after Bangkok revoked his Thai travel documents, AP said April 16.