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Thailand's political turmoil escalates with no forthcoming end
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Thailand has been mired deeper into a political standoff after a turmoil turned into bloodshed in the conflict-crippled Asian country last week.

Riven by three years of strife between forces for or against ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the nation has struggled to seek a way out of the deadly stalemate but is unlikely to get away with the strife happily.

Confrontation intensified

Last Tuesday's unrest followed months of street protests aimed at removing the elected government over its ties to Thaksin who was toppled in a coup in September 2006.

The People's Alliance of Democracy (PAD) launched their street campaign in May against the government of Samak Sundaravej that they claimed as a puppet of Thaksin.

In September, Samak, leader of the People Power Party (PPP), was brought down from office following the court ruling that he accepted illegal payment.

His successor Somchai Wongsawat has held talks with the protest leaders in hopes of seeking a compromise, but the efforts were jeopardized with the arrest of PAD leader Chamlong Srimuang and protest organizer Chaiwat Sinsuwong.

Tension began building up on Oct. 6 when protestors surrounding Parliament vowed to block Prime Minister Somchai, brother-in-law of Thaksin, from entering to deliver a policy statement.

Violent clashes between protestors and police erupted in the morning the next day, resulting in the deaths of at least two people and injuries of more than 400. Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh resigned over the bloodshed, saying that the police failed to exercise restraint he had requested.

Stalemate hard to break

The PPP won elections last December, marking the end of a period of military rule dating from the 2006 coup. Since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, the military has staged 18 coups.

Despite the escalating campaign, Somchai did not plan to quit, a government spokesman declared last Friday.

"The prime minister insisted that he should continue to run the country as he has a mandate from the people. The government is not convicted that either House dissolution or resignation will solve the crisis," the spokesman told the press.

Meanwhile, six core leaders of PAD were released on bail shortly after they turned themselves in to police on charges of inciting unrest. The PAD said it planned a big rally at national police headquarters Monday to vent their anger at "police brutality."

PAD's ultimate goal is seen to bring down the government and remove from power all elements loyal to Thaksin.

The alliance also wants to rewrite the constitution under the banner of "new politics" to reduce the clout of rural vote. Benefited from Thaksin's populist policy, the vast rural poor never changed their allegiance with the ousted prime minister.

As pressure was piling up on the military to launch another coup, army chief Anupong Paochinda reiterated that he had no intention of staging a putsch because the intervention would do nothing to defuse tension.

The putsch failed to uproot the Thaksin influence over the kingdom. Instead, it has widened the political conflict within society, analysts say, adding that the current problem reflects a deep rift between rich urbanites and the rural poor.

They agreed that even if Somchai steps down and his party is dissolved due to electoral fraud, the rural mass will return another pro-Thaksin government.

As long as the PAD remains unsatisfied with the election result, they will go back to streets again to start protest.

"It was beginning to look like we were in for a long night of futile waiting," said an article in Bangkok Post newspaper.

"Not a few of us have in one way or another been affected by the current turmoil in the capital, our long-suppressed fear having now turned into a nightmare reality: 'The War' has been officially declared", it said.

(Xinhua News Agency October 14, 2008)

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