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Tens of Thousands Rally Against Thai PM

  • Ron Corben

Massive protests in Bangkok backed by exiled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra have so far gone peacefully. But fears remain that violence may still be triggered as protesters seek to force the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to resign.

Tens of thousands of supporters of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra gathered in Bangkok Wednesday to push the government to stand down and call elections.

But Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, remains adamant he will not dissolve Parliament and warns protesters, known as Red Shirts, against any violence.

So far the protests, while heated, have been free from bloodshed.

A leading member of protest movement, Jakrapob Penkair warns the Thai military against intervention.

"We are not willing to exchange people's lives for a better cause of the Red Shirts. We don't want to do that - we are not asking for trouble. But the point is if it has to happen we will be ready for it but let me remind them that anything that they try to do - especially militarily would result in more Red Shirt support around the country beyond their control," said Jakrapob.

Since late March, the protesters have surrounded the main government office building. Mr. Thaksin, who was ousted in a coup in 2006 and now lives in exile, has regularly addressed supporters by video conference.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, says the coming days will be crucial for Thailand.

"Over 100,000 people massing in Bangkok from the countryside with a lot of grievances and in a vengeful mode is very dangerous because it takes on a dynamic of its own and becomes more uncontrollable and unpredictable. The government will have to be measured. The army will also have to be tempered otherwise the situation can spiral out of control," said Thitinan.

Kraisak Choonhavan, a member of the governing Democrat Party, fears there will be violence.

"Attacks will be pretty violent against individual members of the government and that there will be an inability to contain it. My feelings are that the police should be outnumbered, if my figures are right and they won't be able to contain the attacks," said Kraisak.

Kraisak said if the government should fall "the only alternative" was military intervention and declaration of emergency powers.

Last year anti-Thaksin protesters, wearing yellow, held similar protests for months, pushing to have a Thaksin-backed government removed.

Thailand's faces deep social divisions that have pitted Mr. Thaksin's supporters, especially the urban and rural poor, against those who accused Thaksin of corruption and abuse of power as well as seeking to undermine the Thai monarchy.

Despite the protests, Prime Minister Abhisit says the summit meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and their key partner states will go on as scheduled. The meeting begins on Friday.

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