25 January 2011
A supporter of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) gestures during a rally outside the Government House in Bangkok, 25 Jan 2011
Thousands of Thai nationalists say they will take to the streets Tuesday to press their demands that the government take a stronger line in its border dispute with Cambodia.
Leaders of the yellow-shirted People's Alliance for Democracy, or PAD, say they will continue their protest indefinitely until Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva tears up a memorandum of understanding with Cambodia and accedes to the group's other demands. Mr. Abhisit has already rejected the demands as impractical.
The government has deployed about 3,600 police to maintain order during the rally, which also involves two smaller nationalist groups. Leaders of the rival Red Shirt faction, whose protest paralyzed parts of the capital for weeks last year, say they will stage a counter-rally Tuesday.
The PAD protest, prompted in part by the recent arrests of seven Thai nationals by Cambodian troops, takes place less than one kilometer from the prime minister's office, known as Government House. The same group occupied Government House for three months in 2008, departing only when Mr. Abhisit's predecessor was ousted by a court ruling.
The PAD, or Yellow Shirts, have been generally supportive of Mr. Abhisit's government, which is backed by the military and the monarchy. But they feel it responded too weakly to the recent incident in which a member of parliament and six companions were arrested in a contested border area.
Five of the seven were given suspended jail sentences and have returned to Thailand. But an organizer from the nationalist Thai Patriots Network and his secretary remain in Cambodia facing espionage charges. The TPN is participating in Tuesday's rally.
The PAD wants Mr. Abhisit to renounce a 2000 memorandum on the handling of border disputes with Cambodia, withdraw from the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO and pressure Cambodian nationals to move out of disputed border areas.
UNESCO lies at the heart of a separate border dispute over land near the Preah Vihear temple, which has been declared a world heritage site.
Mr. Abhisit said Monday that if the memorandum of understanding is revoked, the disputed border areas will never be demarcated. He said to withdraw from UNESCO would give Cambodia a free hand to take control of the Preah Vihear temple.