- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 20, 2009

BANGKOK | Thousands of supporters of exiled former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra braved floods and torrential rain Saturday in a rally to mark the third year since the billionaire’s overthrow by the military.

Despite the presence of more than 6,000 riot police and soldiers, about 20,000 Thaksin supporters, known as “red shirts,” rallied to demand the dissolution of parliament and the resignation of the most senior royal adviser, Prem Tinsulanonda, whom they accuse of masterminding the coup that toppled Mr. Thaksin.

The United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), many from Mr. Thaksin’s rural strongholds, massed in stormy conditions at Bangkok’s Royal Plaza close to Mr. Prem’s residence, dressed in raincoats and huddled under umbrellas in water almost half a foot deep.

There were no reports of clashes at the demonstration, which was the fifth big show of support for the former telecom tycoon since an army crackdown on the UDD in April, showing the resilience of the pro-Thaksin movement.

“Three years after the coup, our country has slid backwards. There is no justice in society,” Mr. Thaksin, wearing a red jacket, told cheering supporters via a video link.

“The longer this government stays, the bigger the disaster is for the country. Give me just six months as prime minister and I will bring this country back to normal,” he said.

Despite living in exile after fleeing ahead of a two-year prison sentence for graft, the twice-elected Mr. Thaksin remains a major political stakeholder in Thailand because of his vast war chest and his influence over the rural masses.

Thailand has been locked in four years of political stalemate fueled by violent rallies, assassination attempts, dissolution of political parties and the seizure of Bangkok’s main airports, which has left the country of 67 million deeply polarized.

Separately, dozens of people were injured Saturday in clashes between villagers and supporters of the anti-Thaksin People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) in northeastern Si Sa Ket province bordering Cambodia.

A state of emergency had been declared in the province’s Kantharalak district, with riot police sent to break up fighting between yellow-shirted PAD protesters and villagers armed with slingshots and stakes, Channel 9 television said.

Scores of villagers hurled rocks at cars and buses transporting 4,000 protesters to the disputed frontier, where they planned to rally to “reclaim” the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple, which an international court awarded to Cambodia in 1962.

The show of support for Mr. Thaksin and the Si Sa Ket clashes will be another setback for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva as he works to revive the export-driven economy and hold together a fragile coalition plagued by infighting.

Instability within the 9-month-old government and the possibility of more clashes have sparked rumors of another coup.

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