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.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
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 Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution