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 15 Apr 2009

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Arrest warrant out for former Thai PM over protests

Thailand issued an arrest warrant Tuesday for fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra for inciting street battles between anti-government protesters and troops that left two dead and 123 hurt, reported AFP.

The move came just hours after thousands of pro-Thaksin demonstrators abandoned their three-week rally at Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's office, fearing a potentially bloody crackdown by government troops.

A court issued warrants for Thaksin and 12 supporters, three of whom were detained by police and charged with crimes relating to the unrest, which saw soldiers and protesters fight running battles in Bangkok on Monday.

"Thaksin and his allies were charged by the court for illegal assembly of more than 10 people, threatening acts of violence and breach of the peace, punishable with five years in jail," the warrant said.

It said he was also accused of inciting people to break the law and cause unrest, a charge punishable by seven years in prison.

Thaksin was ousted in a coup in 2006 and is living in an unknown country to avoid a jail term for corruption, but he gave a string of video and telephone speeches to the rally calling for "revolution" over the past three weeks.

The peaceful end to the protests appeared to have strengthened Abhisit, whose four-month-old government had appeared on the verge of collapse after the protesters also managed to derail a weekend Asian summit.

"I don't consider this a victory or defeat but it's a victory for peace in society," Abhisit said in a televised national address that showed him flanked by government ministers and top brass including the chief of the army.

"We now consider that the unrest has ended. I thank all parties concerned for helping."

The premier said a state of emergency imposed on Sunday in Bangkok and surrounding areas would remain in place while isolated "incidents" of protest were dealt with and promised to prosecute all protest leaders.

But analysts warned that the violence had merely widened the rift between largely poor supporters of Thaksin and the government backed by the army and the Bangkok elite.

"We have stopped the protest but we haven't stopped the fight for democracy. We will continue the movement," said Nattawut Saikuar, one of the leaders who was charged.

The government declared two extra public holidays on Thursday and Friday to extend the three-day Thai New Year festival this week "in order to ensure public security and clean up places affected by the protests."




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