Ahad, 12 Januari 2014

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The Star Online: Metro: Central

Protesters mobilise ahead of planned Thai capital 'shutdown'

Posted: 12 Jan 2014 02:18 AM PST

BANGKOK: Thai anti-government protesters began mobilising in Bangkok Sunday, a day ahead of their planned "shutdown" of the capital as they step up efforts to topple the government and halt upcoming elections.

The politically-turbulent country has been shaken by weeks of opposition rallies against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her divisive former premier brother Thaksin, which have caused the government to call snap February 2 polls.

Demonstrators, who have vowed to disrupt the vote, began packing possessions and equipment at their main Bangkok rally site as they prepared to fan out to seven locations across the city on Monday in an attempt to choke off transport into the capital.

"We hope everything will change in a good way tomorrow. The change we want to see is for this government to stop being corrupt or they should resign," said Komol, a protester at the site who gave only one name.

The protesters want an appointed "people's council" to run the country and oversee vaguely defined electoral reforms before new elections are held in around a year to 18 months.

It is the latest chapter in a saga of political instability and occasional unrest that has gripped Thailand since Thaksin was ousted from power by royalist generals seven years ago.

The billionaire tycoon-turned-politician, who lives abroad to avoid a jail term for corruption, has large electoral support particularly in his northern Thai heartlands where he is adored for a swathe of popular policies implemented by his and subsequent allied governments.

But he is detested among the country's elites and by many in the Bangkok middle class and Thai south, who see him as authoritarian and accuse him of buying votes.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former MP for the opposition Democrat party that is boycotting the elections, has said he expects a large turnout for the latest demonstration.

"There will be huge numbers of people from every province joining the shutdown Bangkok mission on Monday 13," he told a rally late Saturday.

The demonstrators say they will block major intersections, stop officials going to work and cut off power to key state offices.

Schools will close because of fears for students' safety, while the US embassy has advised stockpiling a two weeks' supply of food, water and medicine.

The authorities say they are ready to declare a state of emergency if there is fresh unrest, and roughly 20,000 police and soldiers will be deployed for security.

Deputy national police chief Reungsak Jaritkate said there were 12 hospitals, 28 hotels, 24 schools and five fire stations within the areas affected.

Eight people, including a policeman, have been killed and dozens injured in street violence since the protests began in late October. -AFP

Sheikh Hasina sworn in as Bangladesh prime minister

Posted: 12 Jan 2014 02:32 AM PST

DHAKA: Sheikh Hasina was sworn in for a third spell as Bangladesh's prime minister on Sunday after a deadly general election boycotted by the opposition amid an ongoing political crisis.

President Abdul Hamid led the oath at the presidential palace in the capital Dhaka in a ceremony broadcast live on television channels, one week after the polls which were condemned by the opposition as a farce.

"I am, Sheikh Hasina, taking oath... that I will discharge my duties faithfully as the prime minister of the government as per the law," Hasina said, sparking applause during the ceremony which included recitations from the Koran.

Hasina's 48 cabinet colleagues were also sworn into office during the ceremony attended by about 1,000 government and top military officials, along with foreign diplomats and newly elected members of parliament.

Hasina has insisted her walkover win in the January 5 elections was legitimate, despite a boycott by the opposition and its allies and the deadliest election violence in the country's history.

Hasina's Awami League party won nearly 80 percent of the seats, which should allow her to rule for another five years.

But analysts say the new government could be short-lived since Hasina faces a deepening political crisis and mounting calls for new polls from the international community and the opposition.

The opposition, led by two-times former prime minister and arch enemy Khaleda Zia, has since Wednesday called for a blockade of roads, rail and waterways to try to topple the government.

Zia, who has been under de facto house arrest, was allowed to leave her home in Dhaka late Saturday for the first time in more than two weeks.

She was permitted to attend a meeting at her office but it is unclear if her house arrest, which authorities have officially denied, has been completely lifted.

Hasina vows to restore stability

Sunday's ceremony comes after the country's newly elected lawmakers were sworn in on Thursday.

A total of 153 Awami League members or allies were elected unopposed ahead of polling day as a result of the opposition boycott, imposed over Hasina's decision to change the electoral system.

Hasina, who first came to power in 1996 and then thrashed Zia in a 2008 comeback, has vowed to take a hardline stand to bring stability.

Crippling opposition protests, strikes and transport blockades have left around 180 people dead since October, when the opposition first called for the polls to be halted, and cost an estimated $4 billion in lost production.

"We will take a hardline stand as it is required to ensure the safety of public and properties," said Hasina, daughter of the country's independence hero Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, on Friday.

Police have confirmed the arrest of more than 1,000 opposition activists in recent weeks, stressing that there have been specific charges against each of the detainees.

At least 26 people were killed during the election, making it the bloodiest vote in Bangladesh's history, while hundreds of opposition supporters torched or trashed polling stations.

Zia has called the polls a "scandalous farce" and demanded new elections be held under a neutral government headed by a caretaker leader, fearing poll rigging.

The United States has led international pressure for a swift re-run of the elections to include all of the major parties, brushing aside Hasina's insistence that her victory was legitimate.

The political standoff will likely stoke instability after the deadliest year of unrest since Bangladesh broke free from Pakistan in 1971, according to experts.

The former East Pakistan is the world's eighth most populous nation but also one of the poorest.

The turmoil will also likely undermine efforts to improve the lot of its population of 154 million - a third of whom live below the poverty line. -AFP

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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