BANGKOK, Sept 19, 2009 (AFP) - Thousands of red-shirted protesters rallied in Thailand's capital amid tight security Saturday to mark the third anniversary of a coup against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The September 19, 2006 putsch plunged the kingdom into three years of political turmoil which shows little sign of ending, with supporters of the exiled Thaksin leading the latest round of protest and counter-protest.
|The putsch of September 19 plunged the kingdom into three years of political turmoil (AFP photo)|
Tensions rose further on Saturday when rival anti-Thaksin "Yellow Shirt" demonstrators clashed with police near an ancient temple on the disputed northeastern border with Cambodia.
In Bangkok, the government imposed a draconian internal security law for the latest "Red Shirt" demonstrations and deployed more than 9,000 soldiers and police to guard key locations.
"We came here today to mark the third anniversary of the coup, which has caused huge damage to the country," Red Shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan told the crowd, as a thunderstorm drenched the protest site.
The Red Shirts want current prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to resign and hold elections. Massive anti-government riots in April left two people dead and derailed a major Asian summit.
Police estimated that around 5,000 people had arrived at the protest site by the middle of the afternoon and that more would come for a video or telephone speech by Thaksin scheduled for the evening.
"This will be a peaceful protest and will end by midnight if the government does not use violence," Jatuporn said.
On the Cambodian border, around 5,000 demonstrators broke through barricades and were moving towards the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, the scene of several deadly battles between Thai and Cambodian troops over the past year.
Television footage showed yellow-clad protesters armed with sticks beating local villagers and Thai riot police, who pushed back with shields.
The staunchly royalist Yellow Shirts want the government to push out Cambodian forces from an area around the temple.
The Yellow Shirts helped bring down Thaksin in 2006 and effectively toppled the previous pro-Thaksin government in December when they blockaded Bangkok's airports, but have started to turn their fire on the current administration.
In Bangkok, Abhisit said he had ordered authorities to keep the peace at both protests and said there were reports that unidentified groups of troublemakers could set off bombs in the capital to create unrest.
"I have instructed officials to be aware of inciting incidents and to closely monitor the movements of those groups. I am worried about the situation tonight and have warned intelligence agencies," Abhisit told reporters.
Thailand remains deeply divided between supporters of the twice-elected Thaksin, who are concentrated in rural areas, and his foes in the Bangkok-based power cliques of the palace, military and bureaucracy.
Powerful army chief Anupong Paojinda on Friday denied rumours that the military was about to stage a coup against Abhisit, who has been weakened by a recent battle with coalition partners over the new national police chief.
Abhisit is heading to New York at the weekend for the UN General Assembly -- and it was while billionaire Thaksin was out of the country to attend the same event that the military overthrew him in 2006.
The ongoing political chaos has damaged Thailand's image as a tourist-friendly friendly destination and affected foreign investment in an already struggling, export-dependent economy.