Police fear protesters are too strong after red-shirt leader's escape act

Thai authorities braced for coup after opposition supporters thwart arrest

In another humiliating setback for the Thai government the portly opposition leader, Arisman Pongruengrong, escaped on the end of a rope into the arms of cheering supporters after security forces raided his hotel yesterday.

Mr Pongruengrong, his symbolic opposition red shirt straining with the effort, was winched showly from a third-floor balcony of the SC Park hotel in Bangkok into the welcoming arms of his supporters. A Thai television news programme later juxtaposed footage of the plump Mr Arismun's rope-trick with images of Tom Cruise hanging from a wire in Mission Impossible.

After Bangkok's deadliest political violence in 18 years, there is no sign of an end to the confrontation between the opposition and the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

The authorities were trying to arrest three protest leaders whom the government blames for the riots last weekend that left 24 people dead and more than 800 injured. Officers had to push through hundreds of red-shirted protesters as they tried to raid the hotel in the Wangthonglang district of the city, but in the end opposition supporters managed to detain two members of the security forces instead. Both were taken to the epicentre of last week's demonstrations, then released. After the bungled raid, MrAbhisit went on television to announce that his deputy prime minister, who launched the raid, was being replaced as head of national security by his army chief.

This part of town, which includes some of Bangkok's prime real estate, is run by the red shirts now. Tens of thousands of opposition supporters are flooding back into the Thai capital after visiting their farms and villages for the Songkran New Year holiday. Many of them wave red feet-shaped or heart-shaped clappers, while Liverpool FC jerseys are popular in the crowds. The club is well-supported in Thailand, but their shirt colour is even more so.

The hero of the red-shirted hordes, Mr Pongruengrong, later emerged from a truck in Bangkok's most upmarket shopping precinct to rapturous applause. Behind him was the banner "Welcome to Thailand. We just want democracy".

People are fearful of a repeat of last week's clashes between the opposition, formally called the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, and the security forces, who are supporting the Prime Minister. But rumour swirling through this city of 15 million suggests that patience with the authorities is wearing thin. Conspiratorial voices say a coup may be in the offing.

The message that the opposition is trying to communicate is clear. Protests in recent years have foundered on the close relationship between the red shirts and Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister who was ousted by a military coup in 2006. Now they are trying to prove that the revolt is about more than Mr Thaksin. It is a democratic issue.

Mr Abhisit was appointed Prime Minister after much parliamentary wrangling, but the red shirts want a vote to confirm or reject his mandate. Mr Abhisit's Democratic Party has not won an election for many years, and is unlikely to prevail over supporters of Mr Thaksin in any fresh elections.

No one has seen Mr Abhisit in four days and it is hard to imagine how he can continue to rule under this kind of pressure. He blames "terrorists" among the red-shirts for the violence at the weekend, but it is still not entirely clear what happened. The opposition have been broadcasting a series of speeches by their leaders calling for Mr Abhisit to resign. Hundreds of pick-up trucks ferry more and more red-shirts to the city centre, threatening more weekend disturbances in a capital city that is getting weary of disruption.

Many ordinary Thais have worries closer to home. The unrest is devastating the economy, especially the tourist industry, which accounts for 6 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). Three million Thais rely on tourism for a living, and the political unrest is expected to shave up to 2 per cent off GDP growth this year.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
i100
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Toure could leave Manchester City in the summer, claims his agent
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
News
media
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior C++ Developer

£350 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Senior C++ Developer – L...

SEN English Teacher

upto £110 a day approx: Randstad Education Cheshire: English EBD Teacher requi...

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Client Services Associate (MS Office, Analysis, Graduate)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Client Services Associate (Microsoft Office, Ana...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz