Thu, Jan 01, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Break in Thai protests brings hope of calm

LOSING STEAM? After being outwitted by the government, the activists said they would renew their protests, probably during the ASEAN summit

AP , BANGKOK

Anti-government protesters yesterday vowed to renew demonstrations that have plagued Thailand over the past year after taking a break for the New Year holidays.

But after a year of almost relentless protests, some hope emerged for calmer political waters this year as seemingly weakened demonstrators suspended their siege of parliament.

Thousands of loyalists of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra walked away from protest sites in Bangkok late on Tuesday after the new government outwitted them and succeeded in delivering a vital policy speech that the demonstrators had tried to prevent by surrounding the parliament building.

Instead, the lawmakers gathered quickly at the foreign ministry for the policy declaration before the protesters had a chance to react effectively.

“We’ll have a small party tonight and disperse after midnight so that we can take time to celebrate the New Year festival,” a protest leader, Veera Musigapong, said on Tuesday night.

Yesterday, another leader, Nuttawut Saikua, said demonstrators would probably target the ASEAN summit, which Thailand is hosting, probably late next month.

Thailand has been rocked by protests by rival groups of demonstrators who either support or oppose Thaksin, once one of the country’s richest men, who now lives in self-imposed exile after being forced from office in a 2006 military coup for alleged corruption.

Many Thais appear fed up with both camps after seeing their pocketbooks badly hurt by the upheaval, which wrecked the country’s vital tourism industry after anti-Thaksin protesters seized Bangkok’s two airports for a week.

In a New Year’s message, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva called on all people to settle their differences in the coming year.

“Today is the last day of a year which brought great concern to everyone. I’d like all those worries to pass with the year and let us start a new one with hope. Let’s make our wish come true,” he said.

Abhisit said he was not surprised that Thaksin wanted to return to Thailand to lead the country, but he would first have to face the courts, which have convicted him on corruption charges. He is also banned from holding political office for five years.

Although pro-Thaksin protest leaders said they would renew their pressure on the government sometime after the five-day national New Year’s holiday, some wind appears to have been taken out of the movement’s sails.

Its numbers have decreased in recent days and some participants grumbled that organizers were not paying them enough or providing free food and entertainment during rallies.

It is common practice in Thailand by all sides to beef up their demonstrations by paying anyone willing to join in. Free food and live music are also often offered.

The prime minister was reacting to Thaksin’s recent statement that he wanted to return to Thailand to bring back confidence to the country and help its poor. But he told the CEO Middle East magazine that he would first need to receive a pardon from King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Although pro-Thaksin protest leaders said they would renew their pressure on the government sometime after the five-day national New Year’s holiday, some wind appears to have been taken out of the movement’s sails.

Its numbers have decreased in recent days and some participants grumbled that organizers were not paying them enough or providing free food and entertainment during rallies.

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