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Thai Authorities Allow Rally a Day After Violent Protests

By Ron Corben
20 September 2009

Thai authorities allowed protesters to rally peacefully at a disputed temple site on the border with Cambodia, a day after violent clashes that injured about 20 people. Analysts say the threat of violence may have eased as more people focus on economic recovery.

A tense standoff on the Thai-Cambodian border ended peacefully after authorities cleared the way for Thai nationalists to gather near an 11th century Khmer temple that has been at the center of raised tensions between the two countries during the past year.

The demonstrators from the People's Alliance for Democracy, who are known for wearing distinctive "yellow shirts", read a statement calling for the Thai government to ensure Thai sovereignty over the area.

The event stood in contrast to Saturday when about 5,000 yellow-shirt supporters clashed with local residents and soldiers, injuring several people.

Thailand and Cambodia have sought to ease tensions after Cambodia unilaterally sought U.N. World Heritage status for the Preah Vihar temple. Thailand had sought a joint application over the site that is easily accessible only from Thai territory.

The yellow shirts were at the center of demonstrations leading up to a 2006 coup that ousted then prime minister Thaksin Shinatwatra, who is in exile.

The group occupied the Bangkok international airport in November, calling for the resignation of a pro-Thaksin government. Thousands of tourists were stranded, costing the country millions of dollars in lost revenue.

An author and commentator on Thai politics and business, Chris Baker, says the People's Alliance for Democracy protests on the Cambodia border appear to be aimed at defining the group as an ultra-nationalist party before general elections expected next year.

"The temptation is to see it that they are really playing a very crude nationalist game that a lot of issues that the PAD has been representing over the last couple of years rather have fallen off the agenda," said Baker. "There is really nothing substantial at stake there at all, but groups are trying to build it up and use it to make political capital. In the end both countries are suffering."

During his weekly television broadcast, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva expressed regret over the violence and said the government is working to ensure there is no loss of sovereignty or territory.

On Saturday, more than 20,000 Thaksin supporters rallied peacefully in Bangkok to mark the third anniversary of the coup that ousted him from power. But initial fears of violence during the anti-government demonstration were put to rest after Thaksin addressed the crowd by video conference link.

Analysts and government officials say the passing of the weekend without further violence indicates an improving political climate.

In April, pro-Thaksin "red shirt" supporters forced the cancellation of an ASEAN summit and street protests in Bangkok led the government to declare a state of emergency.

A Thai government spokesman told VOA he is not expecting a repeat of the trouble earlier this year because people want political stability and economic recovery.

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