Thailand's "Truth Today", Thaksin tonight; pro-government protesters mass at stadium

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Rajamangala National Stadium

Around 1,500 police have been deployed to monitor and manage a mass pro-government rally in Thailand's Rajamangala Stadium. Another 2,000 officers are on standby in case of trouble following the rally. The event's highlight is expected to be a telephone address by ousted and now-fugitive ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Dressed in red shirts, busloads of supporters of the former premier have been arriving in Bangkok all day. The rally has started several hours ahead of schedule and so far the "Truth Today" event has been peaceful and good-natured. It is expected that the rally will be broadcast as a political talk show during prime time, the event is billed as being pro-democracy and a counter to the ongoing protests by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) who seek to have the current government removed due to claims of influence by Thaksin. The country's current Prime Minister, Somchai Wongsawat is Thaksin's brother-in-law and stands accused of being a proxy for the now-outlawed Thai Rak Thai party.

According to the event's organiser, Jatuporn Prompan, an MP with the People Power Party, Thaksin will speak at 8pm local time and, "is free to speak out and will not be restricted by topics and time constraints". Concern that the speech may exacerbate the country's current political crisis has led to army chief, General Anupong Paochinda, ordering that the event be closely monitored. Thailand's military have previously given assurances that there will not be a repeat of the bloodless 2006 coup which deposed Thaksin and his populist government.

Thai authorities are currently drawing up extradition paperwork for Thaksin following him being found guilty by a division of the Supreme Court of abuse of his powers over a land deal where his wife bought prime real estate in Bangkok. The court is expected to review Thaksin's broadcast message; should the content of his message to supporters be found as contempt of court an additional seven year jail term could be added to the two year sentence already handed down.

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Earlier in the week anti-government protesters picketed the British embassy in Bangkok calling for Thaksin's extradition. It is expected he would fight this and has already claimed he cannot get a fair trial in Thailand. He alleges the country's judiciary is sympathetic to the opposition.

Tensions continue to increase in the months-long dispute. Thursday saw two attacks on anti-government parties take place. Security staff for the PAD protest outside Government House were attacked with a grenade and another explosive device was thrown into the garden of a senior member of the judiciary. According to Thai police the attack on PAD supporters injured ten.

Armed forces reinforcements are on standby for the end of today's "Truth Today" rally. With the national stadium able to hold 100,000 there is concern over what will happen when the event ends at 10pm. Bangkok police commander, Suchart Muankaew expressed concern saying, "anything could happen".

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