Thailand’s unrest: A Southeast Asian ally is torn by street violence

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The situation in Thailand is becoming increasingly dangerous as demonstrators call for the departure of the democratically elected government.

So far, the Thai military, which sometimes intervenes with a coup d’etat when matters get out of hand, have stayed out of the fray between the demonstrators and the government of this relatively prosperous and peaceful Southeast Asian nation of 70 million.

Last week violence spread outside Bangkok, the capital, with at least three people killed and 103 injured over the weekend. On Monday police began using rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons to defend government buildings.

The government is headed by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinowatra, sister of exiled Thai billionaire Thaksin Shinowatra, himself a former prime minister. The demonstrators’ alleged beef with the government is that it is corrupt — but Thai governments are traditionally corrupt. The street opposition’s real problem with Ms. Yingluck and her government is that her wealthy brother and his companies, in their view, have used money to put and keep her in power. This fact of life in Thai politics is not likely to change even if she agreed to step down.

The United States has an interest in events in Thailand, although not of a nature sufficient to justify U.S. intervention beyond counseling caution and reason as the Thais try to unravel the problem. Thailand has been a friend and ally of the United States since before the Vietnam War. Although it is a kingdom, it is reasonably democratic. The United States buys about 10 percent of Thailand’s exports and provides more than 6 percent of its imports.

Apart from occasional outbursts such as the current protests, Thailand is considered to be reasonably stable. As one of the major countries of Asia to which U.S. foreign policy is attempting to pivot, away from the war-prone Middle East and South Asia, Thailand has been a valuable partner.

Even so, there is nothing for America to do at the moment except encourage the Thais to resolve this problem without further violence.


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