Thai ex-PM warns of 'interference' in democracy
By AMBIKA AHUJA,Associated Press Writer AP - 2 hours 15 minutes ago
BANGKOK, Thailand - Thailand's ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra addressed tens of thousands of supporters by video from exile Saturday, warning against efforts to "interfere" in democracy as lawmakers prepared to select yet another new prime minister amid political crisis.
For most of the day, the red-shirted crowd _ estimated by police at 30,000 to 40,000 _ cheered and danced as speaker after speaker accused the army of using its influence to force Thaksin's political allies from power despite their winning elections a year ago. They criticized efforts by the opposition Democrat Party to form a new government as early as Monday.
Previous Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat was forced to step down earlier this month, when a court dissolved his pro-Thaksin People's Power Party for fraud committed in the December 2007 election that brought it to power.
Thaksin, self-exiled since a 2006 military coup, delivered his prerecorded video address at 9 p.m.
"Those who come to interfere with the government formation at this time, please step back to let the mechanism work," he said, in an apparent reference to the military, which was reported to have pressured politicians to back the Democrats.
Still, Thaksin's speech was more measured than some had expected.
Critics had expressed worries that he would say something to further polarize the nation, already badly split between his followers, who have adopted red as their trademark color, and his foes, who wear yellow.
Thaksin had originally been expected to deliver a speech live by phone, and only at the last minute were reporters told that would not take place. One of the rally's organizers, Jakrapob Penkair, said Thaksin recorded his message earlier Saturday in Bali, Indonesia.
Thaksin's allies and the Democrats both claim they have enough support to select the country's next leader and form a government, and intensive behind-the-scenes maneuvering has been taking place to woo legislators' votes.
The Democrat Party _ which has been in opposition to the Thaksin camp since 2001 _ says it has enlisted enough lawmakers from other parties to form a parliamentary majority and name its leader, Oxford-educated Abhisit Vejjajiva, the prime minister.
Thaksin's supporters are in the Phuea Thai party, whose members claimed Friday they had enough backing in Parliament to elect former national Police Chief Pracha Promnok, leader of the allied Puea Pandin party.
The new leader will be Thailand's fifth prime minister in a little more than two years. The country has been disrupted by months of protests by an anti-Thaksin alliance that occupied the prime minister's office from late August until earlier this month.
Last month, the protest alliance occupied Bangkok's two airports _ which stranded upward of 300,000 travelers _ until Somchai, who is Thaksin's brother-in-law, was forced out of office.
The protest alliance has also injected itself into the battle for the premier's job, on Friday threatening new action if Parliament elects a new prime minister with links to Thaksin.
Thaksin fled Thailand in August, and has been moving from country to country since. In October, a Thai court sentenced in absentia to two years in prison on conflict of interest charges.
The ousted premier is still supported by many in the impoverished countryside because of his populist policies while in power.
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