- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 18, 2009

BANGKOK | A brazen attack by gunmen Friday wounded the protest leader who helped topple Thailand’s government in 2006 and paralyzed the capital last year, reheating political temperatures that had started to cool after several days of rioting by opposing forces.

Bangkok remained under a state of emergency and security was tightened around Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who said the shooting should not be used as an excuse for more political conflict.

“We are concerned by the shooting, obviously. We’ve got to restore order,” he said. “We do not want this to be used to create a wider conflict.”

But the attack was a new strain in long-standing tensions between backers of Mr. Abhisit’s government and supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a military coup three years ago and whose allies were removed from power by the courts last fall.

Sondhi Limthongkul, an outspoken media tycoon and founder of the People’s Alliance for Democracy, was ambushed early Friday on his way to work. At least two men in a pickup truck opened fire on his car with M-16 and AK-47 assault rifles, police spokesman Suporn Pansua said.

Bullets shattered the windshield and the rear window. Mr. Sondhi’s driver was seriously wounded and an aide was also wounded, police said. No arrests in the attack have been made.

Mr. Sondhi, whose “yellow shirt” alliance helped install the current government, was in stable condition after surgery removed “small pieces of bullet” from his skull, said Vajira Hospital’s director, Chaiwan Charoenchoktawee. Mr. Sondhi was conscious, speaking and suffered no brain damage, he said.

The publisher used his media empire and influence to organize and lead protests before Mr. Thaksin’s ouster in 2006 and then again last year to drive the former prime minister’s allies from power.

Mr. Sondhi’s supporters come mainly from the middle class and educated elite of Thai society, and include royalists, academics and retired military. Mr. Thaksin’s backers are mainly from the rural poor, who liked his social welfare programs.

Last year’s demonstrations, which paralyzed the government for months and occupied the capital’s airports for a week, ended after court rulings removed two Thaksin-allied governments, paving the way for Mr. Abhisit’s rise in December.

The court action led to the recent protests by a rival political force — the “red shirts,” who staunchly support Mr. Thaksin and argue Mr. Abhisit has no popular mandate to rule. Their demonstrations drew up to 100,000 people in Bangkok last week and forced the cancellation of a regional summit.

The protests were called off Tuesday after several days of violent street clashes drew a threat of a military crackdown.

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