Ahad, 8 Disember 2013

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The Star Online: Metro: Central

Thai opposition MPs quit as 'final showdown' looms (Updated)


BANGKOK, Dec 08, 2013 (AFP) - Thai opposition lawmakers resigned en masse from parliament Sunday, deepening the kingdom's political crisis as anti-government protesters vowed a final showdown despite an election offer from the embattled prime minister.

Bangkok is bracing for another major opposition demonstration on Monday aimed at toppling Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and curbing the political influence of her brother Thaksin.

The kingdom has been rocked by several episodes of political bloodshed since Thaksin, a billionaire tycoon-turned-premier, was ousted by royalist generals in a coup seven years ago.

Yingluck's government has been shaken by more than a month of rolling rallies by demonstrators, sometimes numbering in their tens of thousands, who want to suspend the country's democracy in favour of an unelected "People's Council".

The opposition Democrat Party said Sunday that its 153 MPs were resigning from the 500-seat lower house - a move that does not prevent Yingluck's Puea Thai party from passing new laws but which leaves parliament facing questions about its legitimacy.

"We performed our duty in parliament as best we could," said Democrat leader and former premier Abhisit Vejjajiva. "We cannot do any more. We regret that the majority in parliament betrays the voice of the people."

The move came soon after Yingluck renewed her offer of elections if the protesters - a mix of royalists, middle class Thais and other Thaksin opponents - agree to respect the democratic process.

"The government is ready to dissolve the house if the majority wants it," she said in a televised address, noting that under the kingdom's laws an election would have to be held within 60 days.

But "if protesters or a major political party do not accept that or do not accept the result of the election, it will just prolong the conflict," she said.

She also floated the idea of a referendum to solve the crisis but it was unclear what the nation would be asked to vote on.

The protest leaders have said that they would not be satisfied with new elections, but the opposition Democrats hinted that it might take part in any new polls, even though they have not won an elected majority in about two decades.

"House dissolution is one way of returning power to the people. But there must be a solution to make people confident in the election," Abhisit said.

Thailand's political conflict broadly pits a Bangkok-based middle class and royalist elite backed by the military against rural and working-class voters loyal to Thaksin.

Pro-Thaksin parties have won every election in more than a decade.

The former premier went into exile in 2008 to avoid jail for a corruption conviction which he says was politically motivated.

Tensions remain high in the kingdom following several days of street clashes last week between police using tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets against rock-throwing demonstrators.

The unrest has left five people dead and more than 200 injured in Bangkok.

Demonstrators and police have observed a temporary truce since Wednesday for the 86th birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who is treated as a near-deity by many Thais.

With turnout dwindling, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has called for a final push on Monday to bring down the government, describing it as "judgement day".

The former deputy premier, who now faces an arrest warrant for insurrection, has vowed to surrender to the authorities unless enough people join the march to the government headquarters.

New concrete barriers have been put in place around the seat of government ahead of the planned protest, but unlike previously security officials said barbed wire would not be used.

"The police will keep up negotiations and to try avoid any injury or death," said national police spokesman Piya Utayo, urging protesters to respect the law.

The government's "Red Shirt" supporters plan their own rally on Tuesday in the ancient capital of Ayutthaya north of Bangkok.

The recent protests were triggered by an amnesty bill, since dropped by Yingluck's ruling party, which opponents feared would have cleared the way for her brother Thaksin's return.

They are the biggest and deadliest street demonstrations since 2010, when dozens of people were killed in a military crackdown on mass pro-Thaksin Red Shirt rallies in Bangkok.

Earlier report:

Thai opposition says all its MPs to resign

BANGKOK, Dec 08, 2013 (AFP) - Thailand's main opposition party announced on Sunday that its lawmakers would resign en masse, deepening the kingdom's political crisis as anti-government protesters prepare for another major rally.

Democrat Party spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut told AFP that all of the party's MPs would formally step down "as soon as possible".

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has faced more than a month of opposition-backed demonstrations seeking to suspend democracy in favour of an unelected "People's Council".

Protesters have vowed a final showdown on Monday in efforts to topple Yingluck's government and curb the political influence of her brother Thaksin.

"We decided to quit as MPs to march with the people against the Thaksin regime," Democrat Party lawmaker Sirichok Sopha said in televised remarks.

Yingluck said Sunday she was willing to call an election to end the political crisis gripping the country - but only if protesters seeking her overthrow accept the result.

The kingdom has been rocked by several episodes of political bloodshed since Thaksin, a billionaire tycoon-turned-premier, was ousted by royalist generals in a coup seven years ago.

Nine opposition MPs resigned earlier this year to lead the mass protests.

Pakistan turns to China for development


ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's launch of work on its largest nuclear power plant last week is the latest example of big-money Chinese infrastructure projects in the troubled nation.

Cash-strapped Pakistan, plagued by a bloody homegrown Taliban insurgency, is battling to get its shaky economy back on track and solve a chronic energy crisis that cripples industry.

Politicians in Beijing and Islamabad are fond of extolling the profundity of their friendship in flowery rhetoric and on the ground this has translated into around 10,000 Chinese engineers and workers flocking to Pakistan.

Chinese companies are working on more than 100 major projects in energy, roads and technology, according to Pakistani officials, with an estimated $18 billion expected to be invested in the coming years.

"Some projects are being done by the government, then most of the projects are being done by the Chinese companies, by the provinces and also with the state enterprises and authorities," Ahsan Iqbal, Pakistan's federal minister for planning and development, told AFP.

"In the energy sector, Chinese engineers are building up to 15 power projects that include hydel (hydroelectric), thermal and nuclear plants."

Pakistan faces an electricity shortfall of around 4,000 megawatts in the sweltering summer, leading to lengthy blackouts that make ordinary people's lives a misery and have strangled economic growth.

To combat the crisis, Pakistan has sought Chinese help in building power generation projects across the country, including nuclear.

Aside from the 2,200 MW project near Karachi launched by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif last week, Chinese companies built two of Pakistan's three operational reactors.

Chinese engineers are also busy in the construction of a 969 MW hydropower project in Kashmir. They have also committed to generate 6,000 MW of electricity from coal and wind in southern Sindh province.

But cooperation goes beyond energy.

Visiting in May during his first overseas trip after taking office, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang linked growth in his country's restive west with that in Pakistan, saying the two sides wanted to create an "economic corridor" to boost development.

The concept involves improving road and rail networks to link China through Pakistan to the Arabian Sea and planning minister Iqbal said its benefits would extend to other neighbouring countries.

"The biggest flagship project is going to be the economic corridor. I hope with its completion, we will be able to create opportunities not just for China and Pakistan but for the entire region," he said.

"If the economic corridor is constructed, trade between China and India can also take place from this corridor. Similarly, trade between China and Central Asia and also between India and Central Asia can take place," Iqbal said.

In January the Pakistani cabinet approved the transfer of Gwadar port, strategically located in the country's far southwest, to a Chinese state-owned company.

Once the road network is improved, Gwadar will slash thousands of kilometres off the distance oil and gas imports from Africa and the Middle East have to be transported to reach China.

The bloody six-year Taliban insurgency and threat of expat workers being kidnapped and beheaded by militants has made many foreign firms wary of investing in Pakistan.

Chinese engineers on construction sites are guarded at all times by armed policemen, and some AFP spoke to seemed happy with their time in Pakistan.

"Pakistani people are very friendly with Chinese. That is why I am here since last three years and I will spend some more years over here," said Wang Yanjun, supervising a road-building project in Muzaffarabad, the main town in Pakistani Kashmir.

"They provide respect and support to Chinese, so cooperation between China and Pakistan is increasing. I think we will do much more development projects in future than now."

Wang Yanjun's company China Xinjiang Beixin, has already worked on projects in Pakistan ranging from roads to airports.

Another engineer, Wang Songqiang of China International Water and Electric Corporation, is looking after the construction of a shopping centre in Muzaffarabad.

"Our company is working in 38 countries, but we have special feelings while working here in Pakistan," he told AFP.

Pakistan and China presently have annual bilateral trade of around $12 billion and are trying to take it to $15 billion in the next three years, though Iqbal said Sharif is dreaming of doubling even this volume.

For China, investing in Pakistan's crumbling infrastructure is a chance to boost trade but also about using its southwestern neighbour's workforce as it seeks to keep prices down while satisfying growing domestic demand.

"Some industries are becoming very costly in China and their government feels they can get cheaper labour in Pakistan for those factories, which includes electronics and autos," Ahmed Rashid Malik, senior research fellow at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad, told AFP.

"For that they need energy in Pakistan and investing in Pakistan's energy sector can prove beneficial for China in future."

But there are dissenting voices, raising worries about possible corruption in the somewhat opaque deals struck between Pakistani government departments and provincial administrations and Chinese firms.

"The capacity of Pakistani bureaucracy and the issue of transparency in this whole development plan is a source of concern for me," Senator Mushahid Hussain, chairman of Pakistan China Institute and a strong advocate of Pakistan-China friendship, told AFP.

"There have been allegations of corruption against them in the past, so it's a challenge for us to utilise this opportunity which came to us through Chinese cooperation," he said. -AFP

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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