Ousted Thai PM allies accuse army of smear plan

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By Nopporn Wong-Anan BANGKOK, Oct 24 (Reuters) Supporters of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a bloodless coup last year, accused the army today of plotting a smear campaign to prevent them from winning December's general election.

They posted on a pro-Thaksin Web site what they said was a confidential report by an army colonel to coup leader Sonthi Boonyaratglin detailing ways to discredit Thaksin and the party his backers joined after his Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party was disbanded for vote fraud.

''I can neither deny or confirm the report,'' said Colonel Sunsern Kaewkumnerd, a spokesman for the Council for National Security, as the coup leaders call themselves.

Sonthi, who retired as army chief last month and became a deputy prime minister, declined direct comment on the authenticity of the report, which raised questions about whether a free and fair election was possible. ''National security is first and foremost. If there is an issue that may threaten national security, the army needs to be involved and take care of it,'' Sonthi told reporters when asked about the report, which he declined to discuss in detail.

The most damaging plan alleged by supporters of Thaksin, the new owner of English Premier League football club Manchester City who lives in exile in London, was to spread rumours that he wanted to replace the constitutional monarchy.

The report, as published on the www.hi-thaksin.org site, suggests spreading rumours that Thaksin was colluding with Singapore to install a presidential system and hiring foreign reporters to write articles critical of the monarchy.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who will be 80 in December and is now in hospital, is genuinely revered in Thailand, including the countryside where Thaksin won many of the votes that swept him to two election victories.

The report, as published on the Web site, also suggested a campaign to persuade voters that Thaksin's populist policies, such as almost-free universal health care and cheap village loans, were also contrary to King Bhumibol's beliefs.

The monarch espouses what he calls a sufficiency economy, one in line with Buddhist beliefs of living within ones means.

Thaksin has said frequently he has never done anything to undermine the monarchy.

But the report, as published, does suggest the army is still worried about the persistent popularity of Thaksin, despite charges of corruption against him.

Thaksin, whose loyal supporters took over the tiny People's Power Party, has also had 2.15 billion dollars in Thai accounts frozen by an army-appointed panel due to allegations of amassing wealth while in power.

In an interview with Reuters earlier this month, Sonthi said the government he installed would use a Cold War-era anti-communist security network to teach voters to elect ''good people'' in December.

''I've assigned the ISOC to train civil servants from various ministries to have a good grasp of the concepts of the rights and duties of the perfect Thai,'' he said. ''Then these government officials will be mobilised to educate the people.'' REUTERS ARB KP1232

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