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Pattaya Daily News

24 June 2011 :: 09:06:48 am 55377

Thai PM turns up heat on rivals as vote beckons

BANGKOK, June 23, 2011 (AFP) - Thailand's prime minister launched a scathing attack on his political rivals Thursday in an attempt to reinvigorate his flagging fortunes ahead of an election seen as pivotal to the country's future.
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The ruling Democrats’ campaign rally at the site of a deadly military crackdown on opposition “Red Shirt” protesters last year underscored the deep political divide in the kingdom after years of political turbulence.

Addressing crowds of supporters, Abhisit Vejjajiva defended his handling of the protests and lashed out at the Reds’ hero, fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and lives in self-imposed exile.

“It’s time to get rid of the poison of Thaksin,” he said.

He said that if voters did not support the ruling party “in the future Thai people will be held hostage by people who love violence.”

With polls showing them lagging the opposition Puea Thai ahead of the July 3 vote, Abhisit’s Democrats are turning up the heat on their main rivals, accusing them of links to last year’s political violence, the kingdom’s worst in decades.

The Red Shirts criticised the decision to hold the rally at the Ratchaprasong intersection which was the focus of their demonstrations last year that left more than 90 people dead in clashes with armed troops.

“It’s inappropriate because it will hurt the feelings of people who lost their loved-ones in the incident. They will feel insulted,” said a senior Red Shirt leader, Nattawut Saikuar.

The opposition asked its supporters to stay away from Thursday’s gathering, which took place in front of the shopping centre that was gutted by fire after soldiers firing live rounds and backed by armoured vehicles broke up the Red Shirt anti-government protests in May 2010.

The authorities blame the Red Shirts for the fire and the violent street clashes that preceded it, while the opposition movement accuses the army of starting the blaze and shooting unarmed civilians.

A Western diplomat in Bangkok suggested the campaign gathering was designed to woo wavering voters in the capital, where polls suggest the party’s traditional strong voter base is ebbing.

He said there was “a real fear that middle-class Bangkok might be thinking about (Puea Thai) not being so bad after all.”

The Democrats took power in 2008 after a judicial ruling threw out the previous administration, and Abhisit is accused by critics of being an unelected puppet of the military and the establishment.

His main rival for the premiership is Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s youngest sister.

Although he lives abroad to escape a jail term imposed in absentia for corruption, Thaksin is widely considered the de facto leader of the Puea Thai party and his politically inexperienced sister is viewed as his proxy.

His is hailed by his supporters — particularly in the rural northeast — for his populist policies while in power, but reviled by the Bangkok-based elite as corrupt, authoritarian and a threat to the revered monarchy.

Category : Politics News

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