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Protesters planning to regroup: Thai minister

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s “red shirt” anti-government movement is still receiving funding and is poised to regroup despite emergency rule in many regions and a tough army crackdown in May, the deputy prime minister said on Friday.

Intelligence reports suggest supporters and allies of Thaksin Shinawatra, a multi-millionaire former prime minister toppled in a 2006 coup, were still conspiring to oust the government and bring the self-exiled tycoon home, Suthep Thaugsuban told Reuters.

“The funding is still there, the anger is still there and the political will is still there,” Suthep said in an interview.

Suthep, who is in charge of security affairs, would not say when authorities will end nearly four months of emergency rule in Bangkok under which hundreds of red shirt supporters have been detained and opposition websites, radio stations and a TV broadcaster shut.

But his comments suggest the government remains deeply concerned about the risk of more civil unrest after clashes between protesters and troops over April and May killed 91 people and wounded nearly 2,000.

He said Thaksin and his supporters, the majority rural poor, have shown no sign of ending their challenge to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his allies, the urban elite centered in Bangkok who wear the king’s traditional color of yellow at protests.

If anything, they have proven their tenacity by returning to the streets a year after blockading the prime minister’s office and holding protests in April 2009 that deteriorated into riots.

“It took a year for people to forget (the protesters) and for them to regroup,” he said.

“We saw it happen once already. Our job is to make sure we prevent it from happening again,” he said, adding that a state of emergency still in place in seven provinces, including Bangkok, would not be revoked until the government was sure the threat of unrest had subsided.

CONCERN OVER THAKSIN ALLIES

The emergency decree, which bans gatherings of more than five people, has helped to restore order to Thailand.

Its economy is bouncing back, projected to grow as much as 8 percent this year. Thai stock prices, which fell nearly 5 percent in a $1.5 billion wave of foreign selling during the unrest, are now outperforming regional peers.

Suthep said there were still sympathizers of the twice-elected Thaksin in every branch of government, including the military and police. “A certain sense of patronage is still there for some people,” he added. “But I think it’s got better.”

The pro-Thaksin opposition party, Puea Thai, which is closely allied with the red shirts, started campaigning last month in provinces where emergency laws had been lifted, focusing on their bid to win the next election, which must be held by early 2012.

Suthep said campaign rallies by Thaksin’s latest political party, which analysts say has a strong chance of being elected, were “divisive protests in disguise.”

A red shirt group will rally on Sunday in the northern Chiang Mai, Thaksin’s home province, less than a week after the emergency rule was lifted there.

Suthep admitted the detention of key protest leaders, who are facing terrorism charges did not significantly weaken the movement, which claims more than 400 of its members have been arrested, some 300 of whom have been indicted.

“It helps, partially, but the brains behind it are still around and working,” he said.

Editing by Martin Petty

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