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Thai anti-government leader promises more protests

THAILAND'S anti-government movement will stage new protest actions in the next few days following a military crackdown that ended deadly rioting last week, the group's fugitive leader said.

Jakrapob Penkair also said yesterday that the violence unleashed at the protests was instigated by military agents disguised as demonstrators in an effort to discredit their movement.

Speaking by phone from a location he declined to disclose, Jakrapob said the "red shirt" movement he helps direct was planning new demonstrations that would be small and legal as well as a new protest outside the prime minister's office at a date not yet set.

An estimated 100,000 demonstrators took to the streets of the Thai capital earlier this month after tens of thousands occupied Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's office for several weeks.

The group later shut down a regional meeting of Asian leaders at the seaside resort of Pattaya, and running street battles between soldiers and protesters broke out early last week in Bangkok injuring hundreds of people.

The army suppressed the rioting within a day but not before two Bangkok residents were shot dead after clashing with the "red shirts," named for their preferred color.

The group comprises mostly loyal followers of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup but whose allies took power in subsequent elections. Some factions are left-wing activists opposed to the country's elite - the military, judiciary and other unelected officials - whom they accuse of undermining democracy by interfering in politics.

Two governments led by Thaksin's allies were dismissed by court rulings last year following massive protests by the People's Alliance for Democracy - royalists known as the "yellow shirts" for their garb. Those protests culminated in the weeklong occupation of Bangkok's two airports. The rulings paved the way for Abhisit to take power.

The red shirts allege Abhisit's four-month-old government took power illegitimately and want new elections.

Jakrapob is one of several leaders of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship who went into hiding after arrest warrants were issued last week.

He accused the military of using provocateurs to stir up the violence and discredit their movement, suggesting air force commandos were disguised as red shirts to carry out acts such as burning city buses.

"It was made to be chaotic and it was made to be bloody by design, and it was not by us," Jakrapob said, while acknowledging some of the group's followers may have "unknowingly followed" the people who started the trouble.

Jakrapob said an assassination attempt last week on the head of the rival yellow shirt movement - media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul - was the work of "the establishment," which he said included members of the military and ruling Democrat Party.

"I believe the establishment has now given a green signal that their forces would destroy all colors - the yellow shirts and the red shirts," said Jakrapob. "Sondhi was targeted in an assassination attempt because he knew too much and he needs to be silenced."

Sondhi's vehicle was sprayed with gunfire Friday on a busy Bangkok street in a gangland-style attack. Sondhi is recovering in a hospital with non-life threatening bullet wounds.


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