November 14, 2008 / 9:19 AM / 10 years ago

Thai crisis likely to resume after royal funeral

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s rival political camps began a three-day truce Friday for the cremation of the king’s sister, but the hostilities that have hampered economic growth and claimed three lives look set to resume after her funeral.

A motorbike is seen upended at the site of a road-side bomb blast in southern Thailand's Yala province November 13, 2008.REUTERS/Surapan Boonthanom

Despite fears that the absence of functional government may help tip the export-driven economy into recession, supporters and opponents of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, focus of the three-year crisis, show no signs of letting up.

Jatuporn Prompan, a lawmaker from the ruling People Power Party (PPP), cited intelligence reports saying the anti-government People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) may launch bomb attacks Sunday to discredit the government.

“They want to make the government look very bad, unable to provide peace and security during the royal ceremony,” he said.

This month police arrested three PAD “security guards” with small homemade bombs and pistols — weapons intended to defend the movement that has occupied the prime minister’s compound since August against counter-attack by pro-government supporters.

However, leaders of the PAD, a coalition of royalist academics, activists and businessmen united by their hatred of Thaksin, denied any violent intent, and accused the government side of fomenting unrest.

“After the royal rites, they may resort to violence,” said PAD supremo Chamlong Srimuang, a retired general who led mass street protests against a military-backed government in 1992, provoking a bloody military crackdown.

Last month, two people died and nearly 500 people were injured in clashes between police and anti-government protesters, the worst political violence in Bangkok since the 1992 bloodshed.

The violence put a further dampener on domestic consumption, and with the government too preoccupied with survival to contemplate doing anything to offset the impact of a global slowdown, economists are cutting 2009 growth projections to 5 percent or below.

PAD SLIDE

A new opinion poll shows a drastic fall in the support for the PAD, which paints its campaign as a crusade to preserve the monarchy against a bid by Thaksin — vehemently denied — to turn Thailand into a republic.

The poll, by Bangkok’s Assumption University, showed support for the PAD shrinking to 26 percent in November from 48 percent a month ago, in large part because of its refusal to dismantle street barricades to allow royal cars past for the funeral rites.

But PAD support could easily return, pollster Noppadon Kannika said, if Thaksin, now believed to be in Hong Kong after Britain revoked his visa last week, tried to use his influence with the current government to get a graft conviction quashed, or tried to drag the king into the political maelstrom.

Earlier this month, he telephoned a mass rally in Bangkok to say only the king or “the people” could bring him home — remarks his opponents said defamed the monarch, an offence that carries up to 15 years in jail.

Other analysts said the next flashpoint for the PAD could be the government’s bid, maybe later this month, to amend the army-designed constitution.

“I just can’t see how the stalemate will end as no one is caving in,” said political commentator Sukhum Nualskul.

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