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Thailand Coup Finds Little Opposition


In Thailand, opinion polls show widespread support for Tuesday's military coup against former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's twice-elected government. But a small group of students and activists have banded together to call for the immediate restoration of democracy.

The military has been busy since Tuesday consolidating power and attempting to control dissent through martial law, banning political meetings and restricting the media.

Although small, there is opposition to the coup.

Led by prominent academic Giles Ungphakorn, a group of about 30 students, dressed in black to symbolize the death of democracy, held a small demonstration Friday defying the ban on gatherings of more than five people. Ungphakorn tells VOA his new group aims to fight for the rights Thais had just a week ago.

"There are three demands. Number one is the military refrain from anymore intervention in politics and go back to the barracks, (two) that the 1997 constitution be brought back to use immediately, and that (three) democratic rights - the right to free speech and association and a free press - be restored immediately," Giles Ungphakorn says.

But it appears most Thai citizens approve of the coup as a means to end almost nine months of political crisis sparked by corruption allegations against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Opinion polls show more than 80 percent support for the military intervention, the 18th coup or attempted coup since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

The military is promising to appoint a civilian government within weeks and restore democracy within a year.

A political scientist from Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, Thitinan Pongsudhirak, says he doubts the opposition will grow if the junta keeps its pledges.

"If they stick to these measures, then I have no reason to doubt they can work out some kind of a compromise, a working relationship with the civil society groups," Thitinan says.

But despite support at home governments and human-rights groups around the world roundly criticized the coup. And it is not clear what happened to Mr. Thaksin's popular support among the rural poor, who liked his populist policies of cheap health care and easy access to credit.

Such support made him the first Thai leader to finish out a term and be re-elected, and the first given an outright majority in parliament.

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