Thailand protests: Coup not imminent, says minister

The BBC's Jonathan Head reports on day four of the protests

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Thailand's education minister has told the BBC he does not believe a coup is imminent as anti-government protests move into a fifth day.

Chaturon Chaiseng described the situation as "pretty serious" and the aims of protesters, to overthrow the government, as "unconstitutional".

But he said "so far" the army does not appear to be backing the protesters, a move needed for a coup to take place.

The country's crime-fighting agency was forced to evacuate on Wednesday.

The marchers, who want the government to step down, targeted a complex of government offices outside the city.

Analysis

Thailand seems stuck on a merry-go-round of political conflict, replaying chaotic episodes that were scarcely believable the first time round. Why?

Ask the protesters and the answer is simple. One name. Thaksin Shinawatra.

They are a mix of middle-class city-dwellers and provincial folk from the south, the stronghold of the opposition Democrat party, and they all repeat the same mantras we heard during the last round of "yellow" protests in 2008.

That the former prime minister elevated corruption, always a pernicious problem here, to new heights; that he tried to control everything, and is still doing so from self-imposed exile, through his sister Yingluck, the current prime minister.

The protest leader said they wanted to shut down government ministries in a bid to cause disruption.

They accuse the government of being controlled by the prime minister's brother, Thaksin Shinawatra.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he is concerned about "rising political tensions" in the Thai capital.

"The secretary-general calls on all sides to exercise the utmost restraint, refrain from the use of violence and to show full respect for the rule of law and human rights," said his spokesman.

'Balance' needed

Chaturon Chaiseng acknowledged, in his interview with the BBC's Jonathan Head, that the government needed to "regain the trust and faith of people" in the parliamentary system.

But he said: "The fact that some people do not believe in the government or the coalition parties anymore doesn't mean they can either overthrow the government or change the system."

On the question of Thaksin Shinawatra - the divisive former prime minister - Mr Chaturon said the governing Pheu Thai party faced a dilemma.

"The party will need to find some balance in this," said Mr Chaturon, a former leader of Thaksin Shinawatra's party and a former deputy prime minister.

"They will need to make it clear that whoever is going to be prime minister can show that they have independence and can make a decision on their own."

He said the current Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is "trying to work very hard to show independence from her brother".

And although he said he thought a coup unlikely, he qualified it by saying "in my experience a coup can take place any time".

Bitter opposition

The mood of the protesters on Wednesday was very friendly, as they and the government side shadow-boxed around each other, the BBC's Lucy Williamson reported from the streets of Bangkok.

Thailand's troubles

  • Sept 2006: Army overthrows government of Thaksin Shinawatra, rewrites constitution
  • Dec 2007: Pro-Thaksin People Power Party wins most votes in election
  • Aug 2008: Mr Thaksin flees into self-imposed exile before end of corruption trial
  • Dec 2008: Mass yellow-shirt protests paralyse Bangkok; Constitutional Court bans People Power Party; Abhisit Vejjajiva comes to power
  • Mar-May 2010: Thousands of pro-Thaksin red shirts occupy parts of Bangkok; eventually cleared by army; dozens killed
  • July 2011: Yingluck Shinawatra leads Pheu Thai party to general election win
  • Nov 2013: Anti-government protesters begin street demonstrations

In the afternoon, hundreds surrounded the Department of Special Investigations (DSI) - Thailand's equivalent of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation - whose chief they accuse of conducting partisan investigations against opponents of the government.

The protests began on Sunday and so far have targeted the finance, foreign and interior ministries, among others - although the government says it is continuing to function normally.

They are being led by former opposition Democrat Party lawmaker Suthep Thaugsuban. A warrant is out for his arrest, but police have so far made no attempt to detain him.

Ms Yingluck - who on Monday invoked special powers allowing officials to impose curfews - has said the government will not use force against protesters.

The demonstrations are the biggest to hit Thailand since the violence in early 2010, when supporters of Mr Thaksin paralysed key parts of Bangkok.

More than 90 people, mostly civilian protesters, died over the course of the two-month action.

In the wake of those events, a government led by Ms Yingluck and the Pheu Thai party was elected, mostly by rural voters who benefited from Mr Thaksin's policies.

But many urban and middle class voters are bitterly opposed to him.

They say he controls the current government from self-imposed overseas exile.

They have been angered by now-shelved political amnesty legislation that they say could have allowed his return without serving a jail sentence for corruption.

map of affected ministries in bangkok

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