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New strife as Thais mark 3rd anniversary of coup

 One of supporters of ousted Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra cheers with Thaksin's poster during a rally Saturday, Sept. 19, 2009 in Bang...
 Demonstrators and supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra listen to Thaksin's speech during a rally marking the third anniversary of t...
 A Thai villager fights his way with a knife during clash with protesters, not seen, as riot police officers look on during a protest against the occu...
 Ousted Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is seen on a gaint screen as he addresses his supporters from an undisclosed location during a ra...

Thailand Politics

One of supporters of ousted Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra cheers with Thaksin's poster during a rally Saturday, Sept. 19, 2009 in Bang...

Thailand Politics

Demonstrators and supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra listen to Thaksin's speech during a rally marking the third anniversary of t...

APTOPIX Thailand Politics

A Thai villager fights his way with a knife during clash with protesters, not seen, as riot police officers look on during a protest against the occu...

Thailand Politics

Ousted Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is seen on a gaint screen as he addresses his supporters from an undisclosed location during a ra...

As thousands of demonstrators marked the anniversary of a 2006 coup in the Thai capital Saturday, a rival group of protesters clashed with police and villagers near the Cambodian border, showing the country's long-running political crisis is far from settled.
In the three years since the coup there have been multiple violent demonstrations, court rulings that have purged two prime ministers from power, and massive damage to the tourist industry after protesters shuttered the airports last year.
The country now appears locked in an endless cycle of protest and counter-protest by supporters and opponents of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in the Sept. 19, 2006 coup on accusations of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for the constitutional monarch. Thaksin himself remains in self-imposed exile, able to rally his followers only by phone.
"Thai politics three years after the coup has become more confused, convoluted, and the stakes have increased. There has been no progress, no headway towards reconciliation and reform," Thitinan Pongsidhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University said this week. "The political situation has become more combustible."
The alliance that led demonstrations culminating in the coup tried Saturday to march toward the gates of a temple on disputed land near the Cambodian border, triggering clashes that left 17 people injured, according to local hospitals. The People's Alliance for Democracy demanded that the Thai government recover the territory that is claimed by both countries.
Supporters of Thaksin and pro-democracy activists rallied in Bangkok to mark the coup's anniversary, with more than 6,000 police on hand to prevent a repeat of rioting that killed at least two and injured hundreds in the last major anti-government protests in April.
Saturday's crowd _ which drew 20,000 to 30,000 people in Royal Plaza, a major public square _ was addressed by Thaksin via video.
"I want to ask people who hate me and those who love me to review the past three years and answer if you have seen anything changed for the better," he said. "Is the economy better? Have people reconciled? How about the people's rights and justice? Have the past three years hurt the country enough?"
Saturday's protesters want current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to step down, claiming he came to power illegitimately with the help of the military and the judiciary, seen as pillars of the Thai ruling class. Abhisit took office late last year by wooing Thaksin's supporters in Parliament after the former leader's allies were forced out of office by court rulings of conflict of interest and electoral fraud.
Despite early promises, Abhisit has made little effort at effecting reconciliation, with his government frequently castigating Thaksin and his supporters. On Friday, it launched a campaign, the "United and Strong Thai Project," calling on all Thais to sing the national anthem at 6 p.m. daily to promote "unity and patriotism."
Thaksin's supporters, many from poor rural areas that benefited from his social welfare programs, say the coup was a blow to Thailand's democracy and was engineered by the country's traditional Bangkok-centered elite _ dubbed the "aristocracy" _ who feared losing their privileges if the people in the countryside were empowered.
"I'm here to show I'm against the coup and all undemocratic interventions, it's so backward of our country and everything's become unfair," said Pop Saenplum, a 45-year-old lawyer. "The government should come from the people. The Abhisit administration didn't and it also failed to fix social and economic problems."
Abhisit's government warned that demonstrators might try to stir up trouble, though protest leaders denied they had violent intentions. The government invoked an emergency law earlier this week that would allow the military to restore order, and police were mobilized around the site.
The crowd began to dissipate late Saturday and no major trouble was reported.
Saturday's clashes near the Thai border with Cambodia were linked to a decades-old dispute over land. Cambodia was awarded control over the 11th century Preah Vihear temple in 1962, but Thailand claims a portion of the land.
The People's Alliance for Democracy seized on the land issue last year to stir up nationalist sentiment and attract support, accusing the government of failing to defend Thailand's sovereignty.
Hundreds of Thai villagers who opposed Saturday's protest and hundreds of marchers clashed, both sides armed with sticks, slingshots and other homemade weapons. Police, who were ordered to show restraint, only carried riot shields making it difficult for them to fend off attacks by the alliance's marchers.
Abhisit told the army and police to negotiate with the protesters, who agreed to send a small group near the temple to make their statement on Sunday. The protesters began withdrawing Saturday night under police escort.


Updated : 2021-10-25 09:58 GMT+08:00