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Thailand Braces for New Round of Anti-Government Protests

The Thai Government is bracing for a new round of anti-government protests later this month with the aim to force the administration to resign and call fresh elections. Rally organizers hope to mass over 500,000 people on the streets of Bangkok amid fears of violence if the protests are protracted.

The Thai government is facing fresh protests from anti-government protesters aligned with ex Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra later this month with renewed calls for the 14 month administration to resign and call fresh elections.

The rallies are to be led by the pro-Thaksin United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship or UDD, known for their wearing of red shirts.

The protests mark a return to massive demonstrations from a year ago when UDD supporters blocked streets in Bangkok and later forced cancellation of a regional summit of Asian leaders at a seaside resort after they made their way in to a conference venue.

UDD spokesman Sean Boonpracong says there are three key aims of the protesters who want the government to resign and want the reinstatement of a constitution from 1997. "The simplest goal is to dissolve the parliament. Second to bring back the people's written constitution of 1997 and third of course is the Privy Council to stay away from politics," he said.

After the 2006 coup that ousted Mr. Thaksin from power, the 1997 constitution was amended by a military appointed national assembly in 2007 to overcome loopholes that opened the way for political interference in independent government agencies.

The UDD also charges the Privy Council, the advisory body to the Thai King Bhumipol Adulyadej, with interfering in politics.

The latest anti-government protest rallies come soon after the Supreme Court judges found Mr. Thaksin guilty of abuse of power and concealing his wealth while in government.

The Supreme Coutt judges called for seizure of $1.4 billion, or 60 percent of Mr. Thaksin's Thai assets of over $2.3 billion. The assets had been frozen after the 2006 military coup.

Former Prime Minister Thaksin has vowed to fight the verdict. He already faces a two year prison sentence for corruption and other cases against him are pending.

Kudeb Saikrajang, a member of the opposition Puea Thai Party that has the backing of Mr. Thaksin, says the UDD is better prepared than in the protests of 2009. "They have well planned this time and I don't know whether it will come to the end in a way that they get what they want but it should be a big show of power of the people this time - so it will be between the government and the anti-government movement," said the ousted prime minister.

"Soul searching"

The UDD says it did "some soul searching" after the events of 2009 and has vowed to employ peaceful means at the rallies.

Jaran Ditthapichai, a UDD spokesman and rally organiser, says the protest's basic aim is to force Prime Minister Abhisit to dissolve parliament. He warned if the military attempted to suppress the protests there was the risk of widespread violence.

"In a certain situation or condition Abhisit must choose between suppressing the Red Shirts, and dissolving the parliament. And if Abhisit choose to suppress us no-one knows what will happen. Maybe civil war, maybe civil war no-one knows," he said.

Fears of violence have already led to more than 20 countries issuing travel advisories warning against travel to Thailand or to avoid gatherings of large numbers of people.

Sunai Pasuk, A representative for Human Rights Watch in Thailand, says both the government and the UDD need to provide convincing assurances they will operate within the law, human rights and democracy. He said Mr. Thaksin is trying to force the government to negotiate.

"Thaksin is playing two cards at the same time, using overwhelming numbers of the UDD as well as the possibility of violence to blackmail the government that if they want to avoid a worst case scenario the government must step down; which the government is not willing to do, so we are leading towards a very worrying situation," said Sunai.

The Thai language Thai Rath newspaper Thursday, in a commentary, noted Mr. Thaksin expected his Puea Thai Party to win early elections. It said with Puea Thai Party control of the Lower House of Parliament, Mr. Thaksin's supporters were expected to seek a pardon for him and annul all the charges against him since he was ousted from power in 2006.