Thai 'Yellow Shirt' party picks leader

BANGKOK, July 3, 2010 (AFP) - The political wing of Thailand's pro-royalist "Yellow Shirt" protest movement appointed a new leader on Saturday as the party gears up for a general election expected next year.

The New Politics party backed Somsak Kosaisuk, a former leader of the powerful Yellow Shirt group, whose protests helped to topple two governments allied to fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

"We will discuss how to make our party a truly mass party and our place in Thai politics, as well as to map out our strategy for the next election," Suriyasai Katasila, the party's secretary-general told reporters.

Thailand recently saw two months of deadly demonstrations by the anti-government "Red Shirt" group, whose members are largely loyal to Thaksin.

Ninety people were killed and nearly 1,900 injured during the rallies, which ended in a bloody military crackdown in May.

Somsak was one of the main leaders for the Yellow Shirt People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which helped to drive Thaksin out of office in 2006.

The group later launched an economically devastating siege at two airports in late 2008, stranding hundreds of thousands of tourists and eventually pushing Thaksin's allies from government.

PAD was backed by the Bangkok-based elite and circles in the palace, military and bureaucracy who loathed Thaksin.

The group set itself up as a political entity in the guise of the New Politics party last year, vowing to take votes from the same support base behind current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Somsak, who was New Politics' first interim leader, replaces Thaksin's arch enemy Sondhi Limthongkul, after his resignation in May.

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