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Monday, November 16, 2009

Thaksin opponents rally over Cambodia trip

BANGKOK - Thousands of demonstrators on Sunday attended a protest by Thailand's royalist "Yellow Shirt" movement against a visit to Cambodia by their arch-foe, fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Four people, including a child, were hurt when men on a motorbike threw a firecracker into the rally in central Bangkok, an organiser said.

Police said the event, attended by an estimated 20,000 people, carried on afterwards.

Criticism

The rally was held to express outrage at the neighbouring country's appointment of Thaksin as an economic adviser and Phnom Penh's refusal to extradite him during his four-day trip there this week, the group said.

The yellow-clad People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) also criticised billionaire Thaksin for comments that he made in a newspaper interview calling for reform of institutions around Thailand's revered monarchy.

The PAD led mass protests against Thaksin before he was toppled in a 2006 coup, and blockaded Bangkok's airports in late 2008 to force his allies out of government.

"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 adviser," senior PAD leader Somsak Kosaisuk told AFP.

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

Controversial visit

Sondhi Limthongkul, the founder of the PAD, told reporters that four protesters were hurt "when two men on a motorcycle threw a firecracker", without giving details.

Police said they were investigating the incident at the Sanam Luang parade ground.

Sondhi survived a gun attack on his car in April, while previous rallies by the Yellow Shirts have been hit by grenade blasts.

Thaksin left Cambodia on Saturday for Dubai, where he has spent most of his time since fleeing Thailand in August 2008.

Thailand has also frozen 2.2 billion dollars of his assets.

His 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 disputed land around a temple on the border.

Thaksin could lose public support?

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.

Thaksin's comments on the monarchy proved 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.

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.

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. -- AFP

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