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November 17, 2008

Thailand Political Stalemate:
Threat of turmoil looms as brief calm ends

Thailand's royal family collected the ashes of the king's sister on Sunday, ending the main phase of an elaborate six-day funeral that has briefly calmed the country's turbulent political waters, reported AFP.

As monks in saffron robes intoned Buddhist chants, the Thai crown prince and princess received a lacquered, diamond-encrusted urn containing the remains of Princess Galyani, who died of cancer in January at the age of 84.

A solemn procession of more than 800 soldiers dressed in red and dignitaries clad in white then accompanied the urn from the specially built crematorium at a parade ground to the Royal Palace in old Bangkok.

Thousands of mourners turned out to watch the ceremony, which came a day after more than 100,000 Thais attended the lavish 8.9-million-dollar cremation of the princess, the elder sister of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Anti-government protesters occupied the main official buildings in Bangkok in August in a bid to force out the government of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, whom anti-government protesters say is a proxy for ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Allies of billionaire tycoon Thaksin, who was toppled in a bloodless military coup in 2006, and his enemies sat together on Saturday as the king lit the gilded 39-metre (128-foot) pyre for the princess.

The truce may hold until the king's 81st birthday on December 5, but then the hostilities between the government and the opposition People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) are likely to reignite, analysts said.

The protest movement against the government exploded into violence on October 7, with two people killed and nearly 500 injured after fierce clashes with police.

"There may be a small civil war, because the two sides deny they will step back," said Wizanu Boonmarat, an analyst from Thailand's Burapha University.

A potential flashpoint is the government's controversial proposal for an amended constitution to replace that put in place by the military after their 2006 coup, Wizanu said.

But the PAD could face problems in mobilising people for more protests because it is getting less support than before from a "silent and neutral group," Wizanu added, without elaborating.

Thaksin's allies in the People Power Party (PPP) won elections in December, angering the old power cliques in the palace, military and bureaucracy who tried to rid Thailand of his influence.

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