Friday, January 28, 2011

Bangkok sees rise in political tension

PM Abhisit's one-time 'yellow shirt' allies turning on him; talk of military coup surfaces

By Nirmal Ghosh, Thailand Correspondent

A supporter of the People's Alliance for Democracy, also known as the Yellow Shirts, poses for a photograph near Government House in Bangkok. -- PHOTO: AP

BANGKOK - POLITICAL temperatures are rising once again in Bangkok, as Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's one-time allies turn against him and return to street protests outside his office.

Protesters from the royalist, right-wing People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), whose massive street rallies led to the ouster of then-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, have been gathering and returning to their old stomping grounds. At their old protest site at the Makkawan bridge opposite the United Nations building, the 'yellow shirts' have taken over the road, erected a big stage and set up an encampment designed for a prolonged sit-in.

So far, however, the protesters number in the low thousands only - far short of the huge gatherings that had led to Thaksin's ouster in 2006 as well as that of the government loyal to him in 2008. There were barely 3,000 in the evenings, and even fewer in the day.

While they had helped pave the way for the entrance of Mr Abhisit's government, the yellow shirts - which are backed by powerful elements of Thailand's old elites - are now turning against him.

The PAD, allied with the ultra-nationalist Thai Patriots Network and the Santi Asoke sect, has adopted a nationalist stance and is accusing the government of allowing Cambodia to grab land along the countries' border. It is demanding that Bangkok cancel a 2000 agreement with Cambodia on border issues, withdraw from Unesco's World Heritage Committee, and expel Cambodian citizens from Thai territory.

Ties between Cambodia and Thailand have been tense since 2008, when an ancient temple on disputed land on the countries' border was granted World Heritage status.


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