BANGKOK: Thousands of rival protesters rallied in Thailand’s capital and at a border temple today, sending tensions soaring on the third anniversary of a coup against former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
In Bangkok, about 20,000 “Red Shirt” demonstrators who support the exiled Thaksin massed in front of the main government offices to demand new elections and the resignation of current prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
Separately on the Cambodian border, dozens of people were wounded as protesters from the anti-Thaksin “Yellow Shirt” movement clashed with police near an ancient temple at the centre of a dispute between the two countries.
The protests were the latest in the three years of political turmoil which has rocked Thailand since the September 19, 2006 coup against Thaksin. The twice-elected billionaire lives in exile to avoid a jail term for corruption.
“We came here today to mark the third anniversary of the coup, which has caused huge damage to the country,” Red Shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan told the crowd in Bangkok, as a thunderstorm drenched the protest site. “This will be a peaceful protest and will end by midnight if the government does not use violence,” he added.
Thaksin was due to address the crowd later by video-link and organisers said the crowd would then move to the house of Prem Tinsulanonda, the top advisor to Thailand’s king. The Red Shirts accuse Prem of masterminding the coup.
Authorities deployed 9,000 soldiers and police and imposed a draconian internal security law on the area, amid fears of a repeat of riots by the same group in April that left two people dead. Abhisit said there were reports that unidentified groups of troublemakers could set off bombs in the capital to create unrest. “I am worried about the situation tonight and have warned intelligence agencies,” he said.
On the border, around 5,000 Yellow Shirts broke through barricades and reached the foot of the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, the scene of several deadly battles between Thai and Cambodian troops in the past year.
The royalist Yellow Shirts — who occupied Bangkok’s airports last year to help topple the previous pro-Thaksin government — want the government to push out Cambodian forces from disputed territory around the temple.
Stick-wielding protesters from the movement clashed repeatedly with riot police and with villagers who were trying to keep them out of the temple area, local television showed.
Dozens of people were wounded, with 20 people hospitalised including one villager who was shot in the neck, a provincial governor said. The Yellow Shirts later retreated after the army agreed to allow 30 of them to go to the Thai territory near the temple on Sunday and read out a declaration, army spokesman Colonel Sunsern Kaewkumnerd said. Cambodian authorities said they were monitoring the protests. “We don’t know how much the Thai side will be able to handle the situation, but for certain we will not let any protester enter our temple,” defence ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat said.
Powerful army chief Anupong Paojinda on Friday denied rumours that the military was about to stage a coup against Abhisit, who has been weakened by a recent battle with coalition partners over the new national police chief.
Abhisit is heading to
New York at the weekend
for the UN General Assembly — and it was while Thaksin was out of the country to attend the same event that the military overthrew him in 2006.