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Thai demonstrators target top adviser

AS many as 100,000 Thai demonstrators staged an anti-government protest yesterday, rallying outside the home of the king's 88-year-old top adviser, whom they accuse of orchestrating a 2006 coup that toppled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and demanding that the current prime minister resign.

Since the coup, Thailand has had four weak administrations, but reverence for King Bhumibol Adulyadej has not waned. Still, protesters dissatisfied with the current prime minister, a Thaksin rival, have targeted the king's closest adviser, privy councilor Prem Tinsulanonda, breaking a taboo in Thailand, where the monarchy and its entourage are usually above criticism.

The last rally outside Prem's home in July 2007 turned into a riot, with more than 200 people injured in a brawl with police.

Bhumibol, who has occupied the throne for six decades, has historically been the country's sole unifying figure in times of crisis, but as speculation about his succession becomes more urgent, the previously taboo topic of the monarchy's role has become a topic of hot discussion.

Yesterday's protest is the biggest challenge to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's four-month-old government - the fourth administration since the coup in a long-running political crisis that revolves around Thaksin.

The protesters say Thaksin was wrongfully ousted and Abhisit - who was appointed by Parliament last December - took power illegitimately and should step aside and call fresh elections. The crowd grew bigger throughout the day but remained peaceful. Police estimated about 100,000 demonstrators were in the area by early evening.


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