Thai Protesters Vow to Return in New Year

BANGKOK ~ Opponents of new Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Wednesday they would resume protests in the New Year, a day after forcing the premier to move the venue of his first policy speech.

Thousands of red-shirted supporters of fugitive former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra dispersed overnight after blockading parliament for two days to press their demands for fresh elections.

The protesters had prevented Abhisit from giving his maiden policy address in parliament Tuesday and the prime minister had to deliver the speech at the foreign ministry instead.

“We will come back after the New Year break,” Shinawat Haboonpak, a core pro-Thaksin protest leader, said. “The fight is not over yet; we will not give up.”

The pledge raises the threat of 2009 starting with the kind of problems that marred 2008, during which a royalist, anti-Thaksin group called the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) held months of protests against the government.

Abhisit, Thailand’s third prime minister in four months, came to power in mid-December after a court barred previous premier Somchai Wongsawat – Thaksin’s brother-in-law – from politics for five years.

The court verdict came shortly after the yellow-shirted PAD had occupied both of Bangkok’s airports, causing major damage to the economy and the vital tourism industry.

Abhisit said Wednesday that Thaksin – who was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and is living in exile to avoid a jail term for a corruption conviction – would get fair treatment if he decided to return home.

“The government will give Thaksin fairness,” Abhisit told reporters.

He said he accepted that protests by Thaksin loyalists may continue but added that if the government was successful then the “protests could not pressure us.”

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said the government had plans to talk to the government’s opponents to seek a peaceful solution.

The “red shirts” say Abhisit’s government is illegitimate and that the court verdict that dissolved the previous government was a “disguised coup.”

The Oxford-educated Abhisit, 44, has said he will call elections only at the “appropriate time” after he has made headway on the country’s economic and political woes.

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