Thai premier vows to prevent 'civil war'

Thailand’s prime minister has vowed to prevent a “civil war” as the nation braced for a massive anti-government protest tomorrow amid fears of bloodshed, just two days before Asian leaders gather in the country.

Publicly admitting the insecurities of his four-month-old government, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said security forces do not want to clash with protesters but will do what is necessary to maintain law and order.

“We cannot allow a civil war or a people’s revolution,” Mr Abhisit said in a nationally televised speech late yesterday, noting his and the public’s concerns about violence at least 10 times.

“If the situation leads to a riot, the government cannot stand still.”

Anti-government protesters who have encircled Mr Abhisit’s Bangkok office for almost two weeks have called for tens of thousands of supporters nationwide to join tomorrow’s rally.

They plan to march from Government House to the home of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s top adviser, Prem Tinsulanonda, whom they accuse of masterminding the 2006 coup that ousted former leader Thaksin Shinawatra.

The protesters are supporters of Mr Thaksin, who has been addressing the rallies almost nightly via video link from exile.

Mr Thaksin was ousted for alleged corruption and convicted last year for abuse of power but retains widespread support among the rural poor majority that benefited from his populist policies.

Mr Prem has denied the accusations but the rare public criticism of the privy councillor broke a taboo in Thailand where members of the monarchy and their aides are highly revered.

Mr Prem had been indirectly accused of orchestrating the coup before; the last rally outside his home in July 2007 turned into a riot in which more than 200 people were injured.

“We have a job to protect key institutions, protect good people and the respected elders of the country,” Mr Abhisit said.

The prime minister held an urgent security meeting yesterday with top defence officials, police commanders and chiefs of the armed forces “to get ready for the situation that could happen,” he said.

Any violence at the demonstration could undermine Mr Abhisit’s government as it prepares to host leaders from 16 Asian nations from April 10-12.

The protests are the latest episode in Thailand’s long-running political turmoil, which has become a tug-of-war between Mr Thaksin’s supporters and opponents. Each is known by the colour of shirts they wear at rallies, red for pro-Thaksin and yellow for anti-Thaksin.

Yellow-clad protesters dominated last year’s protests and were the first to camp at Government House where they stayed for three months.

They are credited with bringing down two governments run by Mr Thaksin’s allies, and their protest culminated in a weeklong siege of Bangkok’s two airports in December, crippling the vital tourism industry at the start of the holiday season.

So far, the red-shirted demonstrators have not entered the Government House grounds, but Mr Abhisit has avoided his office since the rally started on March 26.

He held today’s weekly Cabinet meeting in Pattaya, saying the Cabinet needed to prepare for the Asian summit there.

The demonstrators say Mr Abhisit, who was appointed by Parliament, came to power through illegitimate means and should step down to make way for an elected administration.

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