- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 9, 2009

BANGKOK | About 100,000 protesters seeking to topple Thailand's government turned their wrath Wednesday on the 88-year-old top adviser to the country's revered king, accusing him of undermining democracy by orchestrating a pivotal 2006 coup.

Most of the protesters massed near the Bangkok residence of Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda to demand he step down from his palace job for purportedly engineering the military's ouster of their hero, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

They also demanded that current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva quit his post and call for new elections. Mr. Abhisit has vowed not to step down.

Red-shirted protesters clapped and cheered as their leaders delivered fiery speeches to denounce Mr. Prem, a former army commander and prime minister, and to accuse the country's military, judiciary and other unelected officials of interfering in politics.

Mr. Prem, who has denied any involvement in the coup, remained inside his home while police and soldiers stood guard in the streets and within the compound's walls.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 81, is widely revered, and by tradition the utmost respect also has been extended to palace circles around him. To make public attacks on his top adviser is unprecedented in recent Thai history.

Wednesday's protest could be another watershed moment in political turmoil that has shaken Thailand since demonstrations calling for Mr. Thaksin to step down for purported corruption and abuse of power led to the 2006 coup.

Mr. Thaksin's allies went back into office after post-coup elections, but the anti-Thaksin movement gained momentum throughout the last year. Anti-Thaksin activists - the yellow-shirted People's Alliance for Democracy - helped topple two pro-Thaksin governments by occupying the prime minister's offices for three months and seizing Bangkok's two airports for a week.

The yellow shirts ended their protests in December after courts removed two pro-Thaksin prime ministers from office and dissolved their parties, paving the way for Mr. Abhisit to take power in parliament in December.

Thaksin supporters are now employing virtually the same street-protest tactics in a sustained, grass-roots challenge to Thailand's traditional ruling elite.

Mr. Thaksin still has strong backing among Thailand's rural majority, who benefited from his generous social and economic programs.

Mr. Thaksin spoke late Wednesday via video link from abroad, his image broadcast on three giant screens where protest crowds had gathered. He fled Thailand last year before a court convicted him of abuse of power and sentenced him to two years in prison.

“We will not go home empty-handed. We will return with our hands full of democracy. We want to touch it for once. Real democracy, not a fake one,” Mr. Thaksin said, drawing exuberant cheers.


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