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December 26, 2008

Thailand Politics:
New PM brushes off protest threat of “red shirts”

New Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva Thursday brushed of the threat of protests by supporters of exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra early next week, reported AFP.

Thaksin loyalists, known as "red shirts," have vowed to hold a mass rally when Abhisit, the leader of the Democrat Party, delivers his government policy statement on Monday and Tuesday at parliament.

Oxford-educated Abhisit took power on December 15 after a court dissolved the previous, pro-Thaksin ruling party following months of protests that included a blockade of Bangkok's airports.

"We are closely monitoring the movements of every group. I can reassure you that the majority of Thais want the situation to return to normal," Abhisit told reporters.

"Officials will do their best to maintain peace and have asked provincial governors to update the situation every six hours," he said.

Thaksin supporters have promised to rally in central Bangkok on Sunday evening and will move the protest in front of the parliament building on Monday, when Abhisit is due to start delivering his policy statement.

Protests by the royalist, anti-Thaksin People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) rocked Thailand between May and December, growing rapidly in August when they occupied the prime minister's office.

The yellow-clad PAD then caused major economic damage when they occupied Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport and the domestic Don Mueang airport for around a week from late November to early December.

Thaksin supporters say Abhisit's rise to power came through a "silent coup" by the constitutional court on December 2 which toppled the pro-Thaksin People Power Party and ousted premier Somchai Wongsawat, Thaksin's brother-in-law.

The British-born Abhisit said however that his government was trying to "clarify to the public that the political transition was in accordance with the system."

"Our country must settle and move forward to solve problems for people and I hope that we get the opportunity to work," he said, referring to Thailand's stuttering economy and growing social divide.

Abhisit also defended his policies against criticism that they are populist and copied from Thaksin in an attempt to appease coalition partners and defectors who abandoned the PPP after the court verdict.

Abhisit's government says it plans to give free education for 15 years, a monthly allowance for all senior citizens and give an allowance to 850,000 health volunteers across the country.

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