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Thai government supporters gather to "defend democracy"

Source: Reuters - Sat, 10 May 2014 04:49 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Amy Sawitta Lefevre

BANGKOK, May 10 (Reuters) - Supporters of Thailand's beleaguered government gathered on Saturday on the outskirts of Bangkok saying they were determined to safeguard democracy and avert a coup as anti-government protesters, based at a central park, planned their "final push".

Thailand's polarised politicians have been unable to forge a compromise over a nearly decade-long split between the royalist establishment and a populist former telecommunications tycoon, whose sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was ousted as prime minister on Wednesday.

Her sacking followed six months of anti-government protests that have unnerved investors, frightened away tourists and dented growth in Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy.

"We are here to show that we don't agree with the anti-government protesters' mission to install their own unelected prime minister," Thanawut Wichaidit, a spokesman for pro-government activists known as red shirts, told Reuters.

He said tens of thousands of loyalists of Yingluck and her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, were gathering on the western fringes of Bangkok for a rally to defend democracy.

"We will only accept a democratically elected prime minister. The final objective of the anti-government protesters is a coup, a silent coup or one by the military. We will not stand for this," Thanawut said.

Yingluck was thrown out of office for abuse of power over the appointment of a security agency chief and on Thursday she was indicted by an anti-corruption agency for negligence over a rice subsidy scheme aimed at helping farmers that ran up huge losses.

Yingluck's Puea Thai Party still runs the interim government and is hoping to organise a July 20 election that it would probably win. But anti-government protesters want the government out, the election postponed and reforms to end Thaksin's influence.

"Thaksin's headless puppets have the nerve to appoint a new caretaker prime minister but their action is illegal," anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban a former deputy premier in a government run by the pro-establishment Democrat Party, told his supporters late on Friday.

"We can almost taste victory. We won't retreat. We are almost there."

"FINAL BATTLE"

Suthep called his supporters out onto the streets of Bangkok on Friday for what he says will be a final push to get the government out and install an unelected "people's council" to oversee reforms aimed at excluding Thaksin from politics.

Thaksin or his loyalists have won every election since 2001 but his enemies say he buys votes. They want to change the electoral rules before new polls to try to stop his party winning again.

Suthep has called on the upper house Senate to appoint an interim prime minister. A new Senate speaker, elected on Friday, has called for a session of the assembly on Monday.

Police fired teargas at anti-government protesters trying to storm a security agency compound on Friday.

Both the pro- and anti-government camps have armed activists within their ranks and the rival protests this weekend, even though they are far apart, have raised fears of trouble.

The army, which has staged numerous coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932, has stayed out of the turmoil but violence on the streets would raise the possibility of military intervention.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 86, the world's longest-reigning monarch, has stepped in to defuse previous crises but has not commented on this one since it blew up late last year.

The divide between the poor and what they see as the establishment elite represents a collapse of a traditional order in Thailand at a time when people have begun to broach the hitherto taboo topic of royal succession.

An undercurrent of the political crisis is deep anxiety. Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn does not command the same devotion as his father. (Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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