Sunday, September 20, 2009

Thaksin supporters vow new protests in Thailand

A supporter of the exiled Thai former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra holds up a placard during a rally in Bangkok on September 19. Supporters of the ousted Thai premier have vowed to hold further protests, a day after rallying in Bangkok to mark the third anniversary of a coup that toppled their leader.

September 20, 2009

BANGKOK (AFP) - Supporters of fugitive former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra vowed Sunday to hold further protests, a day after rallying in Bangkok on the third anniversary of the coup that toppled their leader.

The troubled kingdom was rocked by two separate demonstrations on Saturday, with hardline anti-Thaksin protesters also clashing with police near an ancient temple on the disputed border with Cambodia.

In the capital, around 26,000 so-called "Red Shirts" dispersed early Sunday after gathering outside the main government offices the previous day to hear a speech by exiled billionaire Thaksin.

"We will continue to stage our rallies. The fight will not end until democracy is restored in Thailand," Nattawut Saikuar, one of the main leaders of the Red Shirts, told AFP as the protesters went home.

He said the movement, which draws its support from Thailand's rural north where people benefited from Thaksin's populist policies, would now open schools to "educate people about democracy."

In his videolink speech on Saturday night, Thaksin urged current prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to call fresh elections to foster reconciliation, warning that Thailand was becoming a "failed state".

The charismatic Thaksin is living in an unknown foreign location to avoid a two-year jail term for corruption but he remains a vastly influential figure in Thai politics.

The Red Shirts say Abhisit came to power unfairly after protesters from the rival "Yellow Shirt" movement blockaded Bangkok's airports and effectively forced the previous, pro-Thaksin government from power in December.

The Yellow Shirts were back in action on Saturday, clashing with police and villagers at the 11th century Preah Vihear temple on the Cambodian border. Dozens of people were injured including a villager who was shot in the neck.

Authorities were to allow them near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple on Sunday to read a statement urging Thailand to push Cambodian troops from the area, where there have been several cross-border battles in the past year.

"We will reaffirm Thailand's sovereignty in the five square kilometres (two square miles) around the temple and ask Cambodia to leave our territory," said Veera Somkwamkid, one of the Yellow Shirt leaders.

Ownership of the temple was awarded by the World Court in 1962 to Cambodia, but a dispute over the surrounding land was reignited after the crumbling ruins were awarded UNESCO world heritage status last year.

Oxford-educated Abhisit apologised for the temple incident.

"I am sorry that there was a clash and injuries to people," Abhisit said in his weekly television programme, adding that his government was not conceding territory to Cambodia.

"The government is not ignoring this problem, we are working on it. What we are doing is not causing the country to lose territory or sovereignty," he said.

Thailand remains deeply divided three years after the September 19, 2006 coup, which ousted Thaksin while he was out of the country attending the United Nations general assembly in New York.

Abhisit was due to leave Thailand on Sunday to fly to the same event, but the chief of the kingdom's powerful army scotched rumours that there would be another putsch in his absence.

Abhisit is largely backed by the Bangkok-based elites in the palace, military and bureaucracy -- the same groups that loathe Thaksin and want to keep him and his allies out of government.

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