BANGKOK Feb 4 Supporters of toppled Thai
premier Thaksin Shinawatra held small, symbolic rallies at
military bases nationwide on Thursday in what analysts see as a
prelude to a bigger showdown with Thailand's fragile ruling
Hundreds of the fugitive billionaire's red-shirted
supporters gathered outside army barracks in at least 10
provinces and in Bangkok, calling on soldiers to join their
movement and saying they wanted to pre-empt another military
While small, the protests illustrate the widening scope of
Thailand's anti-government protest movement and the resilience
of Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and now lives in
self-imposed exile to avoid jail on a corruption conviction.
They are also a reminder of Prime Minister Abhisit
Vejjajiva's failure to overcome Thailand's deep political
divisions -- and of the potential for further instability ahead
of a Feb. 26 Supreme Court verdict on whether to confiscate
$2.3 billion of Thaksin's family's assets.
That verdict is widely seen as a potential catalyst for
mass street demonstrations this month, keeping investors in
Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy on edge in fear of a
reprise of violent street riots last April.
As a sign of the unease, the cost of insuring Thailand's
sovereign debt has risen in recent days with 5-year sovereign
credit default swaps THGV5YUSAC=R approaching a three-month
high, trading at a spread of 114.00 basis points compared with
111.50 basis points on Tuesday.
"It may turn out to be a long and painful process," said
Pichai Lertsupongkit, head of sales at Thanachart Securities in
Bangkok. "Even if nothing big happens after the verdict, there
will still be pressure as long as divisions cannot be settled."
"There is no clear sign of how things will play out, who
will prevail and what it would take to bring back normalcy," he
At a military base in northern Chiang Mai, Thaksin's home
province, protesters handed red roses to troops in an attempt
to show they have the backing of rank and file soldiers.
"We are here to show support for the soldiers who are with
us and condemn those who are with the undemocratic elite," said
Surachai Saedan, a regional leader of the United Front for
Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD).
The UDD says it is fighting against political meddling by
influential royalists, businessmen, aristocrats and
middle-classes -- ardent opponents of Thaksin often referred to
as "yellows" in the country's polarising, colour-coded
The UDD has held minor rallies almost daily in recent
weeks, with the judiciary, independent bodies, the military and
royal advisers among the targets of their ire.
"It's psychological warfare," said Thai academic Charnvit
Kasetsiri. "The reds have put their concerns on the public
agenda through these small protests."
The UDD has leapt on rumours -- which they are accused of
starting -- of an imminent military coup as talk of splits in
the much-politicised armed forces are met by all-too
predictable displays of solidarity in battalions across the
(For an analysis on Thailand's military: [ID:nSGE60E081] and
scenarios in the weeks ahead [ID:nSGE61004V])
But with coup rumours abounding, continuing protests and
the threat of unrest, securities analysts say the stock market
.SETI will remain jittery.
"The key issue plaguing the Thai stock market is political
uncertainty, which has pushed investors away," said Chaiyaporn
Nompitakcharoen, head of research at Bualuang Securities
"Foreign investors have put less weight on Thai stocks for
a while ... and are awaiting more clarity on the political
(Additional Reporting by Viparat Jantraprap and Panumet
Tanraksa in Chiang Mai; Editing by Jason Szep and Martin