Sunday, November 15, 2009

Thai protesters denounce Thaksin's royal remarks

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra attends a conference called "Cambodia and the world after financial crisis" to give a lecture on economic matters to more than 300 Cambodian economics experts at the Ministry of Economy and Finance in Phnom Penh November 12, 2009. REUTERS/Stringer

(Posted by CAAI News Media)

By Ploy Ten Kate

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thousands of Thais gathered in central Bangkok on Sunday to protest at remarks made about the monarchy by fugitive ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The demonstrators were also angry about the ousted premier's visit last week to neighbouring Cambodia, which refused to extradite him, sparking a diplomatic row.

Police said around 6,000 demonstrators were present by 5 p.m. (1000 GMT), making it one of the biggest protests by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) since its week-long seizure of Bangkok's two airports late in 2008, which helped weaken a pro-Thaksin administration that lost power last December.

PAD's re-emergence on the street will add to the tension in Bangkok, where Thaksin's "red shirts" have stepped up their anti-government protests in recent weeks and will be galvanised by his appearance so close to home in Cambodia.

"We want to send a message out there that the Thai people are loyal to their monarchy and will not let anyone tread on it," PAD spokesman Panthep Puapongpan told Reuters.

The PAD brings together royalists, businessmen, academics and the urban middle classes opposed to Thaksin's attempt to shake up the business and political establishment. The former telecoms tycoon remains popular with poorer voters.

Its supporters normally don yellow shirts, but that was not the case this time, with the organisers trying to emphasise all Thais, not just PAD people, were angered by Thaksin's behaviour.

The PAD has accused Thaksin in the past of irreverence towards King Bhumibol Adulyadej, seen as semi-divine by many Thais, and of having republican leanings, which he denies.

Those allegations were revived last week after an interview he gave to Britain's Times newspaper in which he reportedly blamed "palace circles" for his downfall, taking care to exclude the king, queen and crown prince from any criticism.

Thaksin has lodged a complaint at what he called distortions in the story, complaining in particular about a website headline.


The rally also aimed to express anger at Cambodia's appointment of the fugitive premier as an economic adviser.

"We want to show our love for the motherland and that the country's dignity and integrity must be protected," Panthep said.

Thaksin left Cambodia on Saturday, having given a lecture and met officials as part of the job given to him by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. He also met supporters, including scores of Thai members of parliament, during his stay.

Cambodia refused Thailand's request that Thaksin be extradited to serve a two-year jail term for a conflict-of-interest conviction in 2008, setting off a diplomatic row in which the two countries withdrew their ambassadors.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva blamed Cambodia for the row in a weekly broadcast to the country, saying it had not only failed to extradite a fugitive but had cast aspersions on Thailand's legal and political systems.

"Our goal is clear, that we do not want a problem that will lead to violence," he said, adding that life along their common border -- scene of deadly clashes over the past 18 months because of a row over a disputed ancient temple -- remained normal.

The PAD was founded in 2005 by Sondhi Limthongkul, a former business associate of Thaksin. Sondhi survived an assassination attempt in April.

PAD street protests against Thaksin's government fuelled the instability that led to the military coup that toppled him in 2006.

Abhisit took power in December, luring some former Thaksin allies into a coalition government, with a nudge from the army.

Some members of his Democrat Party are PAD activists -- Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya took part in the airport siege -- but the PAD has recently taken its distance from Abhisit, going so far as to form its own party.

(Additional reporting by Boontiwa Wichakul; Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Alex Richardson)


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