Thai crowds gather for exiled PM

British Broadcasting Corporation

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Thai protesters chant slogans during a rally at a sport stadium in Bangkok

Mr Thaksin still enjoys wide support among poor, rural Thais

Thailand’s ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is to address thousands of supporters from exile at a rally in a sports stadium in Bangkok.

The crowd will see a recorded film, but a live phone address may be cancelled.

Mr Thaksin, whose whereabouts are unclear, has been in self-imposed exile since August after being convicted of breaking conflict of interest rules.

It comes two days before parliament is to vote for a new PM to succeed his brother-in-law, Somchai Wongsawat.

Mr Somchai was forced to resign by a court ruling earlier this month.

The court found his party, the People Power Party (PPP), guilty of fraud during the last election a year ago, and banned it and two other parties in the governing coalition.

They have now regrouped under new names, but the opposition People’s Alliance for Democracy says it has won over enough defectors and unaligned MPs to lead the new government.

Opposition protests

An estimated 40,000 people filled the stadium on Saturday afternoon, police said, ahead of Mr Thaksin’s planned address.

Mr Thaksin remains strongly supported in Thailand, where his party – or parties affiliated with his political organisation – continue to perform well in elections, especially in rural areas.

Abhisit Vejjajiva

The opposition’s choice for PM says he is confident of forming a government

He was expected to address the crowd live by telephone sometime after 2000 local time (1300 GMT), after a pre-recorded video was shown.

But one organiser told the Associated Press news agency the live phone conversation would not now go ahead.

Mr Thaksin was expected to use his address to criticise the Democrats, who one rally organiser said had used the army to win over support for their choice of prime minister.

The Democrats, who were defeated in the last general elections in December, will propose to parliament that Abhisit Vejjajiva becomes the next prime minister.

“What the military leaders have done contradicts the will of the Thai people in backing Abhisit to be prime minister,” Jatuporn Prompan told the AFP news agency.

The new prime minister will be the country’s fifth leader in a little over two years.

Thailand has been in political deadlock for months as anti-government protesters have mounted a campaign to remove the governing party.

They accused the PPP of being a proxy for Mr Thaksin, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006.

The protest culminated in a week-long occupation of Bangkok’s main international airport that left 300,000 foreign tourists stranded.

The opposition called off its action after the recent decision by the constitutional court to disband the PPP.

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