Sunday, November 15, 2009

Thaksin opponents to rally over Cambodia trip

Thousands of members of Thailand's royalist "Yellow Shirt" protest movement are set to rally in Bangkok on Sunday
By Thanaporn Promyamyai (AFP) BANGKOK — Thousands of members of Thailand's "Yellow Shirt" protest group were set to rally in Bangkok Sunday against a visit to Cambodia by their arch-foe, fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

The royalist movement said it was also gathering to express outrage at comments that billionaire Thaksin, who was ousted by the army in 2006, made in a newspaper interview about Thailand's widely revered king.

The yellow-clad People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) blockaded Bangkok's airports almost one year ago to force Thaksin's allies out of government, and also staged protests against him in the months before the coup.

Senior PAD leader Somsak Kosaisuk said the latest protest was against neighbouring Cambodia's appointment of Thaksin as an economic adviser, and Phnom Penh's refusal to extradite him when he visited the country this week.

Thaksin left Cambodia on Saturday for Dubai, where he has spent most of the time since fleeing Thailand in August 2008 to avoid a two-year jail term for corruption. Thailand has also frozen 2.2 billion dollars of his assets.

"Our duty is to protect and preserve the country's honour and dignity and the monarchy. Cambodia violated the extradition treaty and allowed a convicted person to be its advisor," Somsak told AFP.

"This action harms our country's prestige. We will denounce both convicted Thaksin and (Cambodian Prime Minister) Hun Sen at the protest," he said.

Police estimated that 10,000 to 15,000 people would join the rally, which starts at 4:00 pm (0900 GMT) at the Sanam Luang parade ground in downtown Bangkok.

Deputy national police spokesman Piya Utayo said around 1,500 police officers would be deployed in the capital for the rally.

The strongly nationalist Yellow Shirts are also up in arms over comments made by Thaksin to British newspaper The Times, in which he called for reform of institutions around the monarchy.

The issue is sensitive because 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej -- a major force for stability in the politically divided nation -- has been in hospital for the past two months.

Thaksin's four-day visit to Cambodia sparked a diplomatic crisis between Bangkok and Phnom Penh, with relations already tense after a series of deadly clashes in the past year over a disputed temple on their border.

The neighbours recalled their respective ambassadors and expelled the first secretaries of each other's embassies. Cambodian police have also charged a Thai man with spying for the Thai embassy.

The coalition government of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva -- which took power soon after the Yellow Shirt airport blockade -- has been rattled by the prospect of Thaksin using Cambodia as a base for a political comeback.

Thaksin, a telecommunications mogul, remains hugely influential in Thailand's political scene, which remains bitterly split between largely anti-Thaksin urbanites and his die-hard backers among the rural poor.

His so-called "Red Shirt" supporters have themselves staged several massive protests over the past year, including the disruption of a summit of Asian leaders and subsequent riots in April.

But analysts said that by siding with Cambodia he could lose public support.

"To identify yourself with Hun Sen is a terrible political mistake," said Bangkok-based political analyst Chris Baker, who has written a biography of Thaksin.

"I think Thaksin has considerably weakened his own position. He's in a desperate state to try to negotiate over his money and he's overplayed his hand very badly indeed."

In September, Yellow Shirts calling for the Thai government to defend the country's sovereignty clashed with police and Thai villagers during a protest close to the Preah Vihear temple, leaving dozens of people injured.

Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved.


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