Khamis, 13 Februari 2014

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The Star Online: World Updates

Thai riot police retake protest sites in Bangkok

Posted: 13 Feb 2014 09:00 PM PST

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thousands of Thai riot police were deployed on Friday to seize back protest sites around government buildings in Bangkok that have been occupied for months by demonstrators seeking to topple Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Anti-government protesters have been disrupting life in the Thai capital since November, trying to oust Yingluck. They view her as a proxy for her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a self-exiled former premier who clashed with the establishment before he was overthrown by the army in a 2006 coup.

"Our police are ready to reclaim space and will try to avoid violence," National Security Council Chief Paradorn Pattanathabutr told Reuters.

Paradorn said 5,000 police had been assigned to the operation, which was targeting sites around the government district rather than intersections in the shopping and business centres that have been the focus of the biggest rallies.

The protests have pitted the Bangkok-based middle class and royalist establishment against the mostly poorer, rural supporters of the Shinawatras from the north and northeast.

Police had until now largely avoided confronting the protesters, although 11 people have been killed and hundreds hurt in sporadic flare-ups. The past week has been quiet, with numbers dwindling at protest sites dotted around Bangkok.

A Reuters witness said there was no violence as at least 1,000 police cleared protesters from a site stretching from Royal Plaza to the United Nations headquarters. A few of the officers were armed but most carried just batons and shields.

Some protesters hurled abuse but otherwise police met no resistance in a historic area of the capital that includes Government House and the Metropolitan Police headquarters, scenes of violent clashes in November and December.

The area is not one of the largest sites occupied by the main protest group, the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), and in recent weeks it has been held by a small hard core from an allied movement.

Bluesky TV, the PDRC television channel that broadcasts the fiery speeches of the movement's leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, showed pictures of police massing near another protest site by a government complex in northern Bangkok that has been Yingluck's temporary headquarters since the crisis began.


An election on February 2 failed to break the deadlock in Thailand, a country popular with tourists and investors but blighted by eight years of polarisation and turmoil.

Protesters blocked voting in a fifth of constituencies, a result that left parliament without a quorum to approve a new government and Yingluck's Puea Thai Party limping on as a caretaker administration with limited powers.

The deadlock has raised concerns about the long-term impact on an already weakening economy, with the caretaker government unable to approve spending on new infrastructure projects that would have supported growth.

The protesters are demanding that Yingluck resigns and makes way for an appointed "people's council" to overhaul a political system they say has been taken hostage by Thaksin, a telecoms billionaire who shook up Thai politics in the early 2000s with populist policies that harnessed the support of the populous but previously neglected north and northeast.

Thailand's army chief appealed for calm on Thursday ahead of a long holiday weekend, while reiterating that the coup-prone military was resolved to stay neutral.

Protest leaders had urged supporters to come out in force over the weekend, and were planning "Love Thailand and Break-up with the Thaksin Regime" events in Bangkok on Friday, Valentine's Day, which coincides with a Buddhist holiday.

Rumours had swept Bangkok late on Thursday that the police planned to retake parts of the capital ceded to the protesters.

"Police said they will disperse protesters ... We must prepare ourselves to fight back," PDRC leader Suthep said in a speech at one of the main protest sites on Thursday night.

(Additional reporting by Andrew R.C. Marshall; Writing by Alex Richardson; Editing by Alan Raybould and Paul Tait)

Volcano erupts in Indonesia's Java island; airports closed

Posted: 13 Feb 2014 08:10 PM PST

JAKARTA (Reuters) - A volcano erupted late on Thursday night on the heavily populated Indonesian island of Java, sending a huge plume of ash and sand 17 km (10 miles) into the air and forcing the closure of three airports.

Mount Kelud is 140 km south of Indonesia's second biggest city Surabaya, a major industrial centre.

The cloud from the eruption was seen as far as 9 km to the west, and forced the shutdown of airports at Surabaya and the cities of Yogyakarta and Solo.

"Areas to the west of Mount Kelud, including central Java, Yogyakarta, Cilacap, Magelang, Temanggung and Boyolali are still experiencing showers of ash because last night the biggest eruption ... threw sand and ash 17 km into the air to the west," National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Nugroho said by telephone.

Cilacap is home to a major oil refinery, but there was no immediate word on whether its operations had been affected. Its refineries supply about a third of the country's fuel needs.

The agency later said the cloud was dissipating and that the volcano was no longer erupting.

Nugroho said the agency was still trying to confirm reports that two people had died.

"We don't have data yet on how many people have been evacuated in total. We can say 200,000 people were affected. We received reports of deaths but we have not verified them yet," he said.

The eruption caused minimal damage to buildings, Sutopo said, but had left 3 to 5 cm (1 1/2 to 2 inches) of ash and sand on roads.

An estimated 200,000 people live within a 10 km radius of Mt Kelud, one of nearly 130 active volcanoes in the world's fourth most populous country.

At least 11 people were killed earlier this month in the north of the island of Sumatra when Mount Sinabung erupted. The volcano has been spewing lava and ash for months, forcing thousands to flee the area and destroying crops.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono wrote in a message on Twitter that he planned to visit the area near Kelud.

(Reporting by Fergus Jensen and Kanupriya Kapoor, Writing by Jonathan Thatcher; Editing by Ron Popeski)

Venezuela seeks protest leader's arrest after unrest kills 3

Posted: 13 Feb 2014 07:25 PM PST

CARACAS (Reuters) - A Venezuelan court ordered the arrest on Thursday of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez on charges including murder and terrorism linked to street protests that resulted in the deaths of three people the day before.

Using a slogan "The Exit," the U.S.-educated Lopez has for two weeks helped organize sporadic demonstrations around the country to denounce President Nicolas Maduro for failing to control inflation, crime and product shortages.

The president accuses him of sowing violence to try to stage a coup similar to the one 12 years ago that briefly ousted late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, though there is little indication that the protests could topple Maduro.

"There you have the face of fascism!" Maduro said in a speech to the nation on Thursday night, showing photos and video of Lopez at Wednesday's protest in the capital Caracas, some of the footage set to doom-laden music.

"I tell these fugitives from justice: give yourselves up! ... They should go behind bars," Maduro thundered, saying both the intellectual authors of the violence and those who fired shots had been identified by authorities.

Despite the government's strong words and a brief visit by police to the headquarters of his Popular Will political party, Lopez, 42, was not arrested on Thursday.

Colleagues said he spent the day with advisers at his home in the same wealthy eastern district of Caracas where he was once mayor. After Maduro's late-night speech, he took to Twitter and challenged the president to have him arrested.

"Thanks for all your shows of solidarity. I'm fine. I'm still in Venezuela and I'll stay in the streets. Strength!" Lopez tweeted.

"@NicolasMaduro: don't you have the guts to arrest me? Or are you waiting for orders from Havana? I tell you, the truth is on our side."

Speaking to Reuters on Wednesday, shortly before a court upheld a request from the Public Prosecutor's Office to order his detention, the opposition leader blamed armed government supporters for firing on peaceful protesters.

"The government is playing the violence card, and not for the first time. They're blaming me without any proof," he said.


While many Caracas residents stayed home on Thursday, there were sporadic student protests around the city.

Some groups of demonstrators blocked streets and burned tires. Bands of motorcyclists roamed the streets. And opposition supporters in the wealthier suburbs east of the capital banged pots and bans from windows in a traditional form of anti-government protest in some parts of Latin America.

"We want solutions to problems, not endless confrontation and violence," said student Manuel Armas, 19, outside the Alejandro Humboldt University, where around 200 protesters waved banners saying "No More Blood."

Scores of government supporters gathered outside the Public Prosecutor's Office building that was vandalized on Wednesday, chanting pro-Maduro slogans and denouncing "fascist violence."

Coming almost a year after the death of Chavez, the unrest has been the latest demonstration of the OPEC nation's polarization and the deep mistrust between both political camps.

Maduro, a 51-year-old former bus driver and union activist who has staked his presidency on maintaining Chavez's leftist legacy, said further protests would not be allowed. Government supporters would march in Caracas on Saturday, he said.

Wednesday's fatalities were Juan "Juancho" Montoya, a community activist from a militantly pro-government neighbourhood in the poor west end of Caracas; Neyder Arellano, a pro-opposition student; and Bassil Dacosta, who was identified by fellow protesters as a student but by Maduro as a carpenter.


Some 66 people were injured and 70 arrested after Wednesday's violence, officials said. Some protesters, many with their faces covered, threw stones and lit fires in the streets.

Bolivia, Cuba and Argentina, three of Venezuela's fellow leftist political allies in the region, sent messages of support to Maduro's administration.

"Cuba condemns the coup intentions ... organized by fascist groups," the statement from Havana read.

The protests have exposed rifts within the opposition leadership, with some favouring a more moderate approach and saying marches that turn violent only play into the government's hands as it accuses them of being "saboteurs."

Sporadic political protests have become common over the last decade, but they usually fizzle out within days as residents grow tired of blocked streets and the smell of burning tires.

Opposition moderates note that their biggest successes, such as turning pro-Chavez strongholds into opposition territory, came from leaders stepping away from theatrical street protests to focus on daily issues for voters such as poor services, widespread corruption and one of the world's worst murder rates.

(Additional reporting by Caracas bureau reporters, Javier Lopez in Tachira, Daniel Ramos in La Paz, Daniel Trotta in Havana; Editing by Kieran Murray and Meredith Mazzilli)


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