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September 20, 2009

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Thai police out in force for protests

MORE than 6,000 police were out in force in Thailand's capital yesterday as anti-government protesters marked the third anniversary of a military coup they say was a major setback for the democratic system.

In a separate protest in northeastern Thailand, violence broke out as a different political group broke through police lines to march to a temple on the Cambodian border and demand the Thai government recover disputed territory.

Abuse of power

Many of the protesters in Bangkok are supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister who was ousted on September 19, 2006, after being accused of abuse of power and disrespect to the country's constitutional monarch, 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The demonstrators, who gathered in a large public square, want Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Thaksin's rival, to step down. They claim he came to power illegitimately with the help of the military and the judiciary.

Thaksin is popular among the country's rural majority, for whom he instituted generous social welfare programs.

"We are here to show that we want democracy. This government didn't come from democracy. They're a dictatorship in disguise," said 62-year-old Jiraporn Litmontri.

The rally was expected to reach its height last night. Several thousand people turned out early, but heavy rain swept the city in the afternoon, discouraging attendance. Police had said 20,000-30,000 people were expected.

An election after the coup returned Thaksin's allies to power, but anti-Thaksin protesters caused chaos by occupying the prime minister's office for three months, and the capital's airports for a week. Court rulings purged two pro-Thaksin prime ministers and led to Abhisit's taking power.

Thaksin's supporters say the establishment -- royalists, the military and Bangkok's middle and upper class -- is unwilling to yield privileges it holds at the countryside's expense.

In the northeastern province of Sisaket, the group that led anti-Thaksin protests last year -- the People's Alliance for Democracy -- clashed with local residents and brushed through police lines as they marched toward a temple on the Cambodia border to publicize their demand that Thailand seek the return of disputed border territory.

The alliance last year seized on the issue of land around the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple to stir up nationalist sentiment and attract political support.


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