Thai conflict: 2 powerful sides, many in middle

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Associated Press

Posted on January 16, 2014 at 5:32 AM

Updated Thursday, Jan 16 at 6:35 PM

BANGKOK (AP) — There is a lot of talk in Thailand about "the people" and what they want.

Suthep Thaugsuban, the leader of the protests that have taken over several of the capital's busiest intersections this week, says the people demand that the government give up power because of corruption and other misdeeds.

Supporters of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra say the people should be allowed to choose their leaders in elections set for Feb. 2, and that their opponents reject the vote only because they know they won't win.

Then there are the people who love neither the ruling Pheu Thai Party nor the opposition Democrats, who have boycotted the election and are calling for an unelected interim government to oversee political reforms. These people are concerned that tensions, which already have left eight people dead and hundreds injured in recent weeks, could turn even more violent. They hope for an end to the political conflict that has flared on and off since Yingluck's brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted in a 2006 coup.

Below are several Thais, some prominent, some ordinary, explaining their views on the political unrest:

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Buddhipongse Punnakanta is a leader of the People's Democratic Reform Committee, the group organizing the "Shut Down Bangkok" protest:

"I think we've made the right decision (in shutting down Bangkok) but it will take time because we are here peacefully. This is the only way to lead the people to win.

"Once the prime minister and the Cabinet ministers step down from their caretaker posts, once a person trusted by the people is chosen to replace the premier, we're definitely going home. We just don't know when that day will come.

"Once reforms are completed, the new rules are set and everyone is satisfied, then an election takes place. Even if it turns out Ms. Yingluck still wins an election and becomes the prime minister again. Go ahead. I'm not going to come out and tell her to leave because she wins under the rules that we accept as the best."

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Chumpolpatra Pinyorashadapong sells whistles, a symbol of the protest movement, near a rally site in Bangkok's shopping district. Some are stainless steel, others are studded with plastic gems, and others feature the Hello Kitty character and the red, white and blue of the Thai flag:

"I've sold more than 20,000 whistles in the protest since Nov. 24. Some of these whistles are imported from China and we put Thai national flag decorations on them. It sells like hotcakes to all kinds of people.

"Sure, there's a huge profit from doing this, but at one point I think we have to stop protesting to let the country move on."

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Sombat Boonngamanong is a prominent activist with the Red Shirts, a group close to Thaksin and Pheu Thai. In 2010, when the Democrat Party ruled, Red Shirt protesters took over central Bangkok before the army drove them out in clashes that left more than 90 people dead:

"I believe that there will be an election. An election might not be the solution to this conflict but if there's no election, I believe the situation will get far worse than this. You're saying this election is full of conflict and violence; I'm saying without an election, the situation will turn gravely violent. This is because there will be no rules to follow.

"The Red Shirts are being patient, but they are resentful. People outside might not be able to feel it, but it's like an arrow that is being drawn back so tightly. Only one flick and it's going to be released with so much power. If the Red Shirts come out this time, it's going to be violent."

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Lanalee Ngamdee is an anti-government protester:

"I want to see reforms for everything because the Thaksin regime has seeped in to control every mechanism in the society and allowed the government to abuse their power. There's no legitimacy in using the majority of the votes to corrupt. This is why people rise up against you.

"The situation is beyond the point of negotiation. We have allowed this government to work without interruption for more than two years, but they did not make anything better. Now they're saying they want to talk and asking for more time to work to prove themselves. It's too late. ...

"We have to admit the 'Shut Down Bangkok' operation is bothering people. Even I am troubled. I have to move to work at a temporary location during the shutdown, but it's better to be troubled now than to live under the current regime."

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Watinee Chaithirasakul, a textile entrepreneur, is among those who have attended candlelight vigils calling for peace during Thailand's political conflict:

"It's not easy to live in a society with those with different views. ... I'd rather not talk about politics in everyday life at all but people around me wouldn't stop bringing it up. ... I'm being criticized for being in the middle ground and for not being extreme.

"There are people who hate the Red Shirts but don't want the (anti-government) Yellow Shirts. ... They are trying to find some place to stand in the society. ...

"I believe that in the end, Thai politics will find a solution through negotiations. It's just a matter of when. The protests might drag on for months or a year. ... A war might occur and there may be some losses, but eventually, everyone will have to return to the ballots."

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Lakkana Punwichai is a Red Shirt supporter:

"The protesters' demands are not realistic. To have reforms before an election is not possible because reforms, by their name, entail processes which are never-ending. Reforms have to happen every day, both before and after an election.

"The only weapon that the Red Shirts have is the election, because what we have is votes. If there's no election, will we stand up to fight to the point it's a civil war? That might be possible, but what's going to happen and already happened is the distrust among Thai people. We can't walk on the streets without fearing each other. This is also a form of war.

"One thing that has changed in the realm of Thai politics is this is the first time we are seeing the Thai society strongly aware about a coup. It's quite a consensus that a coup is not an answer for the country."

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Chanida Wongpeam is an office worker:

"I'm not on any side of the conflict, but I don't agree with shutting down Bangkok because some of the businesses have to be halted. I work in a Japanese company and normally I am not even allowed to come to work late, so my life is also affected. There's no way this measure will drive away the government, but then again, these days the government, the Yellow Shirts or the Red Shirts all have their own political agenda.

"It's frustrating to be a person in the middle ground. I wanted to believe in one side but then I looked the other way, the other side is also right in what they do. Plus, they are all corrupted. That's universal. The only difference is just how much or how little they corrupt.

"Really I want them to talk to find a way to end this as soon as possible. Thailand is going nowhere because of this."

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