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March 30, 2009

Thai govt attempts to block Thaksin’s phone-ins

Thailand's prime minister admitted Sunday that authorities are trying unsuccessfully to muzzle Thaksin Shinawatra, the fugitive ousted leader who is re-igniting the country's political crisis as he roams the world, repoted the Associated Press.

Thaksin has become the prime attraction at protests that started last week outside the prime minister's office, speaking via video link from abroad and firing up supporters with calls for nationwide protests.

"The government is trying to block the call-ins but cannot do more than the law permits," Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told a gathering of leaders from his Democrat Party. "We are also trying to get him back to the country."

Abhisit has rejected the protesters' calls for his resignation, but analysts say Thaksin has sounded a "war cry" and his strength should not be underestimated. The protests that started Thursday are the largest since Abhisit took power in December.

Thaksin was deposed by a 2006 military coup for alleged corruption and abuse of power, setting off a political crisis and a tug-of-war between his supporters and opponents. Thaksin fled into exile last year before a court convicted him in absentia of violating a conflict of interest law, and has publicly taunted authorities ever since.

The tycoon-turned-politician remains popular with the poor rural majority that benefited from his populist policies and has managed to address supporters by telephone or video link from Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and most recently Africa, aides said.

"I call on you to rise up across the country," Thaksin told about 30,000 protesters Saturday night.

"You don't need to come to Bangkok, but rally in peace throughout the country to say that we cherish democracy," said Thaksin, his image on a giant screen outside Government House, which he occupied for six years as prime minister.

Thitinan Pongsidhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, said Thaksin's messages show he is determined to take his political battle to a new level.

"In terms of rallying the troops, it was a war cry," Thitinan said. "Despite the passage of time and distance, the support Thaksin has in the countryside is still potent. Last night he activated that support."

At another protest Friday night, Thaksin dropped what Thai media have called a "bombshell." He accused the chief adviser to King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the country's revered constitutional monarch, of being a mastermind of the 2006 coup and undermining Thai democracy.

The comments shocked Thailand, where the king's Privy Council is considered by many an extension of the king himself, who is widely adored and protected from reproach by strict laws.

Privy Council head Prem Tinsulanonda has not publicly responded to the allegations, which other members of the council have denied.

Last year's protests were dominated by Thaksin's opponents. They were the first to camp at Government House, where they stayed for three months, and were credited with bringing down two governments run by Thaksin's allies. Their protests culminated in a weeklong siege of Bangkok's two airports in December, crippling the vital tourism industry at the start of the holiday season.

Abhisit was named prime minister by Parliament after the two governments were removed by court decisions. Thaksin's supporters say the courts were biased and Abhisit should step down so elections can be held. They are vowing to use the same people-power method as their rivals.


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