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December 16,2008

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December 17, 2008

Thailand Politics:
New PM mulls cabinet amid tight security

Thailand's new Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva began working on his cabinet line-up on Tuesday as hundreds of police stood guard against protests by angry supporters of the old government, reported AFP.

Abhisit's Democrat Party won over enough lawmakers to clinch a parliament vote on Monday, two weeks after a court dissolved the ruling party loyal to ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra after six months of political turmoil.

The party said Oxford-educated Abhisit's new cabinet would strive to boost the economy, which has taken a battering from anti-government street protests peaking with the siege of Bangkok's two airports late last month.

"Abhisit will oversee the economic team because this government gives priority to economic matters," Democrat Party secretary general Suthep Tuagsuban told reporters.

He said cabinet posts were still being hammered out but would be divided between the Democrats and their smaller coalition partners, whose defection from the now-defunct People Power Party gave Abhisit his slim majority.

The British-born 44-year-old, a former economics lecturer, is awaiting the official decree from Thailand's widely revered king installing him as Thailand's 27th premier, expected on Wednesday.

"After receiving the royal command of appointment I will go to work at Government House immediately," Abhisit said, referring to the prime minister's offices that were occupied by protesters from August until early December.

"The government policy statement would be completed within two to three days at latest."

As Democrat leaders met behind closed doors, about 300 police stood guard outside their Bangkok headquarters where dozens of supporters of Thaksin dressed in red shirts had gathered to denounce Abhisit's election.

"Police have deployed forces at the Democrat headquarters since Monday, and this morning (Tuesday) we will send more police there," said Major General Amnuay Nimmano, deputy metropolitan police commander.

Clashes broke out between police and the "red shirts" on Monday, after about 100 protesters gathered outside parliament and hurled traffic barriers and stones to try to block the main gate to the building.

There were about 40 protesters outside the Democrat Party headquarters on Tuesday, but they left after representatives of a pro-Thaksin group laid a wreath, denouncing the party as a puppet of the army.

In the afternoon, about 300 factory workers turned up, demanding Abhisit help them get their year-end bonuses.

Analysts say the Democrats, who lost the elections in December last year to the PPP, will have a tough time reconciling Thailand's opposing factions who support or detest Thaksin, who was removed in a coup in September 2006.

Many of Thaksin's supporters feel they were robbed of their democratic rights after the courts removed two PPP prime ministers this year and then dissolved the party, creating the opening for the Democrats to fill the void.

Monday's vote followed six months of disruptive and at times bloody protests by the royalist, anti-Thaksin People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD).

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