via CAAI News Media
Written by Agencies
Saturday, 20 February 2010 06:09
Around 1,000 anti-government protesters have gathered in the Thai capital Bangkok ahead of a crucial supreme court decision next week involving the country's former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.
About 20,000 security personnel have been deployed around the country amid concerns the demonstrations could turn violent over the court ruling, which will decide the fate of the ousted leader's $2.2bn fortune.
Members of the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship, also known as the "Red Shirts" due to their signature garb, have vowed to step up protests ahead of the potentially explosive court decision on February 26.
The Red Shirts staunchly support Thaksin and have maintained his removal from power in a 2006 bloodless coup was illegal.
In its ruling next Friday the court will decide whether or not Thaksin's assets in the country were obtained through corrupt means and should be confiscated by the authorities.
Stripping Thaksin of his fortune - which mostly came from his career in the telecommunications industry before he entered politics - would deny him the means to finance any political comeback.
Thaksin's assets in Thailand were frozen in the months after the coup and a court ruling against him next Friday could provoke more mass protests from his followers.
The US, British, Australian and other foreign embassies in Bangkok have issued advisories warning their citizens to stay away from mass political gatherings in case violence erupts.
The target of Friday's protest was General Prem Tinsulanonda, who the Red Shirts say was a key leader in the 2006 military coup that forced Thaksin from power.
Thaksin was convicted in absentia on charges of conflict-of-interest in 2008 and sentenced to two years in prison.
He currently lives in exile in neighbouring Cambodia.
Prem is the president of the Privy Council, which advises the Thai king, and also serves as an adviser to the Bangkok Bank, one of the largest in Thailand.
The Red Shirts say that Prem helped arrange financing through the Bangkok Bank for a golf course that encroached on the Khao Soi Dao Wildlife Sanctuary in southeastern Thailand.
Prem has denied the allegations.
Thailand has been gripped by pro-Thaksin and anti-Thaksin protests for more than three years.