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Political Tensions Flare in Thailand, Military Not Ruling Out Another Coup


Thailand's top military commander says he cannot guarantee there will not be another coup after political tensions flared up in the country again this week. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Bangkok.

Elections last December returned Thailand to democracy after a 2006 military coup toppled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. But the poll failed to resolve tensions between those who supported the coup and those who opposed it. Those tensions erupted into violence as both sides protested last Sunday.

The country's supreme military commander, General Boonsang Niempradit told reporters he cannot guarantee there will be no more coups.

Political Science Professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak, of Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, says the escalation of protests has led to speculation of a new coup.

"The conditions are now precarious and they may soon be untenable because if there is more violence in the streets, the police would be under pressure to restore peace and order. If they cannot do it, then the military, the army, will have to step in," he said. "So, the likelihood of a military coup has grown very quickly in the last few days."

Thaksin - who faces corruption charges - is banned from politics. His allies regained control of the government in the December elections and are now trying to change the constitution to protect Thaksin supporters from prosecution. Thaksin opponents have been demonstrating against the changes.

A number of people were injured last Sunday when both sides clashed during street demonstrations in Bangkok. Thaksin opponents are planning new protests for Friday.

Political analyst Giles Ungphakorn at Chulalongkorn University notes that recent conditions resemble those leading up to the coup nearly two years ago, but cautions against speculation.

"The coup in 2006 was possible because there were widespread demonstrations, at a peak 200,000 people on the streets. The government was paralyzed, and there were calls from calls from many sections of civil society for a coup d'etat," he said. "We are not seeing that right now."

The tensions have nonetheless raised concerns among investors in Thailand, which was until recently one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia. The Thai stock market plunged Wednesday and continued to drop Thursday.

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