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by Pueng Vongs

Thailand Military Withdraws Troops, But Maintains Iron Grip

(PNS) -- The blitz of small bomb explosions in Bangkok on New Year's Eve marked the culmination of mounting tensions in the once shining nation, which thought it had put its recent troubles behind it.

Thailand has been considered a political and economic jewel of Southeast Asia. But in early 2006 Thais flooded the streets to protest the government of Thaksin Shinawatra. The prime minister had been accused of wide abuses of power including tax evasion, cronyism and media censorship. The protests were capped by a military takeover of Shinawatra's government just three months ago.

The military backed interim government headed by former military leader Surayud Chulanont thought the coming year would return the nation to its former glory. The interim government had the blessings of Thai monarch King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Thai citizens and practically the entire country had been swathed in yellow a symbol of loyalty to the king. Democratic elections were promised in a year's time.

But things did not go as smoothly as the leaders had hoped. It has been difficult to shake Shinawatra's influence. Most of Thailand's broadcast media is still controlled by Shinawatra or members of his Thai Rak Thai party. Shinawatra's supporters also continued to stage scattered protests across Bangkok. They persisted despite local dailies reporting that the protestors had been paid by Shinawatra's people to show up. Meanwhile, Shinawatra was reported to be canvassing nearby Asian nations like China to gain their endorsement for a possible political comeback. Last month, he petitioned to be able to return to Thailand for the first time since the coup.

Thai leaders say Shinawatra's backers carried out the bombings, which killed 3 and injured 38. Other suspects include Muslim insurgents responsible for explosions in the southern part of Thailand, which have killed some 2,000 people over three years. But Thai leaders dismissed that the insurgents were involved. Shinawatra, from Beijing, denied any involvement in the attacks.

The bombings are just one more dark cloud of many that hang over the entire country. Citizens, who only three months ago welcomed the military tanks and soldiers with beaded jasmine and lotus flowers now bristle with concerns that the new government will not give up its power.

Media mogul Sonthi Limthongkul who led the public uprisings against Shinawatra, says at first he supported the new government, but now he admits, he's "starting to have doubts." He says the coup has restored former autocratic style rulers back in the Thai government.

"The basic ingredients of the coup was the military personnel joined forces with the old bureaucrats, who did not allow the people's participation in government," says Limthongkul. "Now the power has returned to the old bureaucrats. It is disappointing to me."

"This current government is basically an interim government. They are misjudging their role. They should only be here a year and initiate long term planning to increase public education on what happened during Thaksin's rule and what went wrong," says Limthongkul. "There needs to be serious transparency installed into government. "

In the country's predominant rural areas, residents are getting antsy for a democratic election, says Chaichatri Limcharoon, president of the Provincial Journalists Association of Thailand and executive editor of the Thai News in Chiang Mai. "While most people support the military government they are concerned that the military will try to stay in power."

In the meantime, Thailand is hoping to salvage their shaky economy. Tourism is a mainstay. An estimated 12 million people visited Thailand last year bringing in approximately $15 billion in revenue. After the recent bombs, the United States, United Kingdom and Australia have issued travel advisories deterring visitors from Thailand. Tourism was just recovering from the impact of the tsunami three years ago. It seems that 2007 will bring more uncertainty to the beleaguered nation.

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Albion Monitor   January 4, 2007   (

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