January 11, 2010 / 8:58 AM / 10 years ago

Thai protesters rally outside royal adviser's home

KHAO YAI THIANG, Thailand (Reuters) - Thousands of supporters of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra rallied on Monday outside the rural home of a royal adviser they accuse of involvement in the 2006 coup that toppled the billionaire.

A woman decorated in Thailand's national colours greets the crowd from the stage during a protest by the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) in Khao Yai Thiang January 11, 2010. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

At least 5,000 protesters from the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) gathered to denounce Surayud Chulanont for his alleged illegal occupation of forest land in the mountains of northeastern Thailand.

Surayud sits on the Privy Council and the UDD says members of this body orchestrated the military coup that ousted Thaksin in September 2006. Former army chief Surayud became premier one month later and served until elections in December 2007.

The protest by the “red shirts” is seen as the prelude to an offensive later this month by pro-Thaksin elements inside and outside parliament to bring down the embattled coalition government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Concern about the planned protests has unsettled the stock market in Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy. Previous clashes led to downgrades in Thailand’s credit ratings.

Prosecutors agreed last week Surayud was not the rightful owner of the plot of land, which he will have to return to the state. Tanapit Moonprauk, a spokesman for the Attorney-General’s office, said prosecutors would not press charges against Surayud because he had not intended to break the law.

However, the UDD, which draws its support largely from the rural poor who helped Thaksin twice win election landslides, accuse Surayud and Thailand’s powerful elite of hypocrisy.

“DOUBLE STANDARDS”

“We are here because there is a double standard in law enforcement,” protest leader Supon Attawong said on a makeshift stage near Surayud’s house, drawing loud cheers from the crowd.

“This area was meant to be allocated to the landless. What is this if not unlawful privilege?”

The UDD is planning a prolonged anti-government rally while the pro-Thaksin Puea Thai party prepares for a censure debate, probably in February, to exploit cracks in Abhisit’s coalition. It comes ahead of a court verdict on whether to confiscate $2.3 billion of assets belonging to the Shinawatra family.

The UDD insists it is a pro-democracy movement opposed to the domination of Thai politics by royalist business elites, the military and the aristocracy, elements they say have conspired to remove governments elected by the majority.

Thai political scientist Thitinan Pongsudhirak said it was unlikely Monday’s demonstration or rallies later this month would succeed in toppling the government, which the UDD has been attempting to do since Abhisit took office a year ago.

Thitinan said the Oxford-educated premier’s best hope of easing Thailand’s polarizing five-year political crisis was to engage with the UDD.

“Yes, there is much hypocrisy and double standard. They can protest and cause rumblings, but it is unlikely to derail the government,” Thitinan said. “You can protest all you want but you won’t succeed without powerful backers.

“Right now, it appears the government is winning, but they would be making a mistake if they don’t address (UDD) grievances, setting the stage for more frustration and anger.”

Writing and additional reporting by Ambika Ahuja; Editing by Martin Petty and Paul Tait

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