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Thaksin's supporters stage massive protest

THAI authorities yesterday braced themselves for the first major protest of the year by anti-government demonstrators allied to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

More than 3,500 policemen were deployed near the protest site - an open field in the historic heart of Bangkok -? and the military was put on standby, Bangkok police chief Lieutenant General Suchart Maunkaew said before the late-afternoon rally. Police said about 20,000 demonstrators were expected.

Thailand was plagued by protests last year by rival groups of demonstrators who either support or oppose Thaksin, who now lives in self-imposed exile after being forced from office in a 2006 military coup for alleged corruption and abuse of power.

Last year's protests were dominated by Thaksin's opponents, who occupied the prime minister's office for three months and seized Bangkok's two airports for a week in November. The airport closures derailed the country's tourism industry.

New Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva became Thailand's third leader in four months when Parliament appointed him in December, ending the blockades led by the People's Alliance for Democracy.

Saturday's protest was called to demand legal action against the alliance's leaders.

"We want to know why none of their leaders have been arrested when they clearly broke the law by occupying airports," said Jatuporn Phromphan, a protest leader.

Protesters are also demanding the resignation of Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, who was a supporter of the anti-Thaksin demonstrators.


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