SOLYMONE BLOG

THAILAND ON EDGE

BANGKOK - THAILAND faced a fresh wave of political unrest on Sunday as supporters of fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra prepared to rally against the new prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
  • The protests are Mr Abhisit's first major challenge since he came to power on December 15, two weeks after a court disbanded the pro-Thaksin former ruling party following months of political turmoil in the kingdom.
  • Thousands of police were being deployed in central Bangkok, where the protesters are set to gather on Sunday before moving to parliament, where Mr Abhisit will deliver his first policy statement on Monday and Tuesday.
  • 'Our demand is for Mr Abhisit to dissolve parliament because he has no legitimacy,' said Mr Jatuporn Prompan, a core leader of the pro-Thaksin movement, who are known as the 'red shirts' because of their trademark clothes.
  • The rally will start at 0800 GMT in central Sanam Luang park, Mr Jatuporn said. Protest leaders said they would announce the timing of the move to parliament on stage during the demonstration, he said.
  • 'We still have no conclusion concerning a phone-in by Thaksin,' Mr Jatuporn added, referring to earlier speculation of a telephone address by the ex-prime minister, who was toppled in a military coup in 2006.
  • British-born Abhisit said in an interview on Friday that he hoped to be able to deliver his policy statement uninterrupted by the protests, and urged Thaksin against inciting further unrest in Thailand.
  • The planned rally is set to bring Thai politics full circle after a year of turmoil, with the pro-Thaksin camp using tactics that the billionaire tycoon's foes originally employed to bring down his allies.
  • Protests outside parliament on October 7 by the royalist, anti-Thaksin People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), aimed at stopping then-prime minister Somchai Wongsawat delivering his policy speech, left two dead and 500 wounded. Mr Abhisit said on Friday he had ordered police that there should be no repeat of the bloodshed.
  • 'Police will not use violence against the protesters,' national police chief General Patcharawat Wongsuwan told reporters on Saturday. Gen Patcharawat said around 3,600 unarmed police would be on duty on Sunday, with just over half around parliament and the rest at the initial rally site or conducting weapons searches. 'If we cannot resist the protesters we will consult with parliament whether they want to postpone or not,' Gen Patcharawat said. 'If necessary, police will request the assistance of the military.'
  • The army declined to act when the PAD occupied the main government offices in Bangkok in August and when they blockaded the capital's two airports earlier this month, a move that stranded around 350,000 air
  • travellers. The PAD ended their protest campaign when the constitutional court on December 2 ousted the government.
  • The Oxford-educated Abhisit has vowed a 'grand plan of reconciliation' to end the damaging conflict between pro- and anti-Thaksin forces and to boost Thailand's stuttering economy.
  • He pledged on Friday to bring the ringleaders behind the recent unrest to justice, but caused controversy by appointing as his new foreign minister a vocal supporter of the PAD's airport
  • blockade. Mr Abhisit also faces a tough task to smooth over the widening rifts in Thai society. Thaksin, living in exile to avoid corruption charges, is still loathed by the Bangkok-based elite in the military, palace and bureaucracy, who see him as a threat to their power base.
  • But his populist policies won him huge support among the urban and rural poor, especially in his native north and northeast.
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