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Thailand: ‘Risk of civil war’

(Bangkok) Supporters of Thailand’s embattled government warned the country’s judiciary and senators against any bid to install an unelected prime minister, saying it would be a disaster that could spark civil war.

Jatuporn Prompan, who heads the pro-government Red Shirt movement, made the comment during a rally on the western edge of Bangkok that was held three days after prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was ousted in a controversial ruling by the Constitutional Court.

Punctuating the warning of violence, unknown assailants fired two grenades late yesterday at the prime minister’s office compound, where pro-government protesters were camped. Two people were slightly wounded, said an official.

It was the latest in a series of grenade attacks and drive-by shootings that have left hundreds injured since Thailand’s political crisis escalated in November. Both sides accuse the other of orchestrating the violence.

Emboldened by Ms Yingluck’s removal, anti-government protesters ramped up their efforts to bring down what remains of her administration by laying siege to television stations, surrounding state offices and demanding lawmakers help them install a non-elected prime minister to rule the country.

Ms Yingluck’s cabinet has named deputy premier Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan as acting prime minister, but the leader of the anti-government protest movement, Suthep Thaugsuban, said that Mr Niwattumrong “doesn’t hold the authority and status to be the head of the government”.

Mr Suthep said the Senate should “quickly consult the presidents of the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Administrative Court and the Election Commission to work to appoint the new prime minister immediately”.

The anti-government protesters have called for a “final push” to oust the entire cabinet and set up an unelected “people’s council” that they say would implement still-undefined reforms to combat corruption and fight money politics. They oppose elections scheduled for July, which the current ruling party would likely win.

Mr Jatuporn, however, insisted that the current government was legitimate and denied there was any political vacuum in the wake of Ms Yingluck’s departure. There is only “the political vacuum that the elites, including Suthep, are attempting to create”, he said.

Appointing an unelected prime minister “will inflict a crisis on the nation, because the only solution for Thailand is democracy under the king as head of the state”, Mr Jatuporn said.

“I want my voice to be heard by the presidents of three courts and the Senate … that you are going to create a disaster in the nation,” he said. “You are going to create a serious crisis that could lead to a civil war that no-one wants to see.”

Thailand’s long-running political crisis began in 2006 when Ms Yingluck’s brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was toppled by a military coup after being accused of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Thaksin, a former telecommunications billionaire, remains highly popular among the rural poor in Thailand’s north and north-east, and parties controlled by him have won every national election since 2001. The anti-government protesters, aligned with the opposition Democrat Party, say they want to remove all traces of his political machine from politics.

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