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December 13, 2008

Thailand Political Stalemate:
Protesters warn against pro-Thaksin PM

Thai anti-government protesters Friday threatened to resume street demonstrations that crippled the kingdom for months if a new prime minister is chosen from the former ruling party next week, reported AFP.

MPs are set to vote for a new premier in a special parliamentary session Monday, with opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva currently the frontrunner for the post after a series of defections from the old ruling coalition.

The vote is being held after a court on December 2 ousted prime minister Somchai Wongsawat and disbanded his ruling People Power Party (PPP) following months of protests by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD).

The PPP has since regrouped as the newly formed Puea Thai party -- which the PAD accuses of acting as a proxy for ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup -- and it insists it can still form a government.

"We oppose any proxy prime minister from Puea Thai or any coalition government that comprises members of Puea Thai, which is a puppet party of Thaksin," the PAD said in its first statement since ending six months of protests.

"The new government must support a new politics in which people can widely participate in accordance with the PAD to prevent any future political crises," the statement said.

The former PPP already looks set to lose control of the country after four smaller parties from its coalition crossed the floor to join the opposition Democrat Party following the court's decision in a vote fraud case.

A key faction of former PPP lawmakers has also defected, following months of anti-government protests by the PAD that peaked in late November with an eight-day blockade of Bangkok's airports.

"If our demands are rejected or ignored we are ready to take suitable action," the PAD added.

Thaksin, who lives in exile to avoid a jail sentence for corruption, is due to give a telephone address to thousands of supporters at the national stadium in Bangkok Saturday.

The PAD protesters took to the streets in May, upping their fight in August when they began squatting in Government House, the prime minister's cabinet offices in Bangkok.

In late November the protesters besieged Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport and the smaller Don Mueang airport, leaving their three protest compounds only after the government had been deposed.

More than 350,000 travellers were stranded by the blockade.

Puea Thai, which means "For Thais", and the Democrats are now vying to muster enough MPs to give them a majority in Monday's vote.

One of the PAD's core leaders, Somkiat Pongpaiboon, is a Democrat party member. The PAD's statement also included a 13-point list of demands for any new government, calling for it to speed up the prosecution of Thaksin on corruption charges, cancel his diplomatic passport and ensure his extradition from exile.

The group also reiterated its strong opposition to any amendments of the junta-backed constitution and warned any new premier not to appoint ministers tainted by previous scandals.

The PAD was also behind protests that led to the anti-Thaksin coup two years ago.

It is backed by elements of the military, palace and establishment, while drawing support mainly from the Bangkok elite and middle classes. Thaksin is a favourite of poorer, rural Thais, especially in his native northeast.

Thailand's acting prime minister, Chavarat Chanvirakul, on Friday dismissed rumours that if Puea Thai fails to form new government he will dissolve parliament.

"My duty is to take this government to a smooth end and everything is fine now. On December 15 the house will vote for a new prime minister," Chavarat told reporters as he inspected the damage at Government House.

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