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Pro-government rally stokes security fears in Bangkok

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November 1, 2008

Thailand Political Stalemate:
Pro-government rally stokes security fears in Bangkok

Thailand’s capital is gripped by security concerns Saturday as government supporters gather at the national stadium where former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra is expected to address the rally either through a telephone hookup or a pre-taped speech, reported agencies and local media.

Authorities said they are preparing for possible trouble at the event, organised by the pro-government United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, or UDD, where Thaksin Shinawatra is scheduled to make his first address to his supported since being convicted of corruption last month.

Chaturon Chaiseng, a former executive member of ThaiRak Thai, the banned party founded by Thaksin, is among those who will address the crowd tonight. The theme of the event will be against the coup, he said.

Thailand’s Supreme Court found Thaksin guilty last month of helping his wife buy land from the government, his first conviction since the military ousted him in a 2006 coup, reported Bloomberg. Thaksin skipped bail in August and fled to the UK with his wife, Pojamarn Shinawatra, who was sentenced to jail for tax evasion.

Thaksin's speech may inflame an increasingly violent political standoff between anti-government protesters who despise him and the ruling People Power Party led by Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, the former leader's brother-in-law.

The People's Alliance for Democracy, which has seized and occupied the government house since late August, opposes any party linked to Thaksin and has vowed to protest until the People Power Party is out of power.

“There is no peaceful resolution to this crisis unless one side backs down,” Bloomberg quoted Ismail Wolff, an analyst with PSA Asia, a Bangkok-based security and risk assessment consulting firm, as saying. “History is likely to repeat itself here, and violence, it seems, is becoming increasingly inevitable.”

“We fear that there will be more violent incidents so security officials have been ordered to be on alert,” city police chief Suchart Muenkaew was quoted by local newspaper Bangkok Post as saying.

The military would also be on alert in case the situation spirals out of control, the paper also quoted Thai army spokesman Sansern Kaewkumnerd as saying.

On Friday night, police set up checkpoints near the stadium, in the Hua Mark area of eastern Bangkok near Ramkhamhaeng University.

Bangkok has witnessed several acts of violence over the past week, including at least two explosions which killed a member of the anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy, and wounded five others.

Earlier on October 7, the police crackdown on the anti-government protesters blocking the entrance of Parliament resulted in two dead and more than 400 were injured. On September 2, a street clash between government supporters and opponents left one person dead and several others seriously hurt.

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