PM on first day at defence ministry amid anti-government protesters

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BANGKOK, July 11 – Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra started her first day of work as defence minister with a warm welcome from Thailand’s top brass, but amid anti-government protests at the ministry. 

The premier, as Thailand’s first woman defence minister, entered the ministry’s compound today. She was warmly greeted by deputy defence minister Gen Yuthasak Sasiprapa, Supreme Commander Gen Tanasak Patimapakorn , Army Chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, Navy Chief Admiral Surasak Rounroengrom and Air Force commander-in-chief Air Chief Marshal Prachin Chantong.

Before the premier’s arrival, anti-government groups gathered outside the compound urging the military not to meddle in politics. The demonstrators showed their opposition to the premier’s concurrent position as defence minister.

Multi-coloured group leader Tul Sitthisomwong claimed that the premier’s taking the defence ministerial post must be considered political interference which entangles the armed forces with politics.

Other groups including the so-called “White Masks” and the “Thai Patriots Network” also turned up amid tight security with 900 police officers to prevent any untoward incident.

Thai Patriots Network leader Chaiwat Sinsuwong said his group rallied at the defence ministry today to obstruct the first day of work of the premier and her deputy minister following the controversial audio clips of a purported conversation in which Gen Yuthasak appears to discuss with ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra the political and military situation in Thailand, including in the deep South, as well as the upcoming military reshuffle and a plan to help the fugitive Thaksin return to Thailand.