July 14, 2006

Protesters forced to scale back Thai PM march

By Nopporn Wong-Anan

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Campaigners trying to oust Thai Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra were forced to scale back their
protests on Friday after the royal palace made it clear they
must stop dragging the king into a long-running political

Having originally planned a pro-monarchy, anti-Thaksin
march of tens of thousands, the ad hoc People's Alliance for
Democracy (PAD) coalition mustered just 200 protesters outside
the British and U.S embassies.

"We submit a letter to these embassies to tell their
citizens that we don't want Thailand to return to dictatorship
and Thaksin is not a democracy defender," said rally leader
Somsak Kosaisuk.

Playing on Thais' extreme reverence for 78-year-old King
Bhumibol Adulyadej, the PAD has accused telecoms billionaire
Thaksin of undermining the crown, in addition to cronyism and
abuse of power -- all charges he denies.

However, Thaksin stoked the controversy this month when he
alleged "charismatic individuals" were looking to oust him by
"unconstitutional means," a remark Thai media and analysts took
as a thinly veiled attack on top royal adviser Prem

But in a speech on Monday, another senior royal aide made
it clear the PAD should stop playing the "royal card" and
dragging the monarch into the political mess left by April's
inconclusive -- and subsequently annulled -- general election.

Amid mounting speculation about pro-Thaksin and pro-palace
factions within the armed forces, former Prime Minister Prem
told 700 army cadets on Friday it was the military's duty to
serve the monarch, not the government and politicians of the

"We are soldiers of the nation, soldiers of His Majesty the
King," said 85-year-old Prem, who also used to be Armed Forces
Commander. "Government doesn't own us."

After annulling the April 2 poll, which failed to produce a
result due to an opposition boycott, the courts have come under
pressure to navigate a way out of a deadlock stemming
ultimately from a PAD street campaign against Thaksin.

However, the judges have made little headway amid a flurry
of lawsuits from all sides. A new election has been pencilled
in for October 15, but the opposition and many political
analysts think it will have to be pushed back.