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Thai protesters burn images of Singapore PM

Written by: Staff
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Bangkok, Mar 17: Protesters burned posters of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong outside the city state's Bangkok embassy today (Mar 17, 2006) as a campaign to oust his Thai counterpart, Thaksin Shinawatra, took a nationalist twist.

Waving placards saying ''Thailand Not for Sale, Get Out'', several hundred protesters urged a boycott of all things Singaporean in answer to the takeover of telecoms giant Shin Corp by its state investment arm, Temasek, from Thaksin's family.

''If Singaporeans faced the same situation as we do now, we believe Singaporeans would also rise up to do what we are doing,'' said Somsak Kosaisuk, a key member of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which is trying to kick Thaksin from office.

They also torched models of Singapore Airlines planes, its ''merlion'' national mascot and pictures of Lee's wife, Ho Ching, the Temasek boss.

The political crisis has already caused the Thai stock market and baht to wobble and is now raising long-term economic concerns, with ratings agencies looking at growth forecasts and companies delaying public flotations or investment projects.

The anti-Singapore sentiment, which stems from outrage at Thaksin's family paying no tax in January's 1.9 billion dollars Shin Corp deal, now appears to be hurting business.

According to Chainid Ngow-Sirimanee, head of builder Property Perfect PCL, Singapore firms have delayed decisions on potential Thai property investments worth 256 million dollars.

DBS Group Holdings, which had been thought keen on raising its stake in Thailand's TMB Bank PCL, had yet to make up its mind on whether to go ahead, a spokesman said. Analysts attributed the delay to politics.

''I AM DEMOCRACY''

Thaksin, who remains defiant in the face of the middle-class metropolitan movement to oust him, hit the provincial campaign trail once again, rallying his core rural support base for snap elections called on April 2.

The Election Commission says the poll, which Thaksin has billed as a referendum on his leadership, may have to be postponed as a boycott by the three main opposition parties is likely to render it constitutionally unviable.

Thaksin, who is accused of corruption, cronyism and eroding the checks and balances of the 1997 constitution, does not agree.

''April 2 is the day for people to choose whether to let mob rule prevail or give the democratic process a chance to work,'' he told sugarcane farmers in the western province of Kanchanaburi, home to the famous ''Death Railway'' bridge over the River Kwai.

''I represent the democratic process. If you agree with the opposition boycott, you can abstain,'' he said, referring to one of the options on Thai ballot papers.

More than 100,000 people hit the streets this week calling for his head, sparking fears in the royal palace and army of a repeat of the bloodshed during a ''people power'' uprising against military rule in 1992.

However, both sides appear to be going out of their way to avoid violence.

Police marshalling the protests have been good-natured and unarmed and Thaksin switched a meeting from Government House to avoid confrontation with thousands of protesters camping on its doorstep.

A 20,000-strong pro-Thaksin ''caravan of the poor'' which arrived in northern Bangkok today also vowed to steer clear of its political adversaries.

''We don't want to clash with them,'' said Attarit Singhlor, head of the 3-km (2-mile) convoy of trucks and home-made tractors which snaked its way slowly down from the impoverished northeast as the political crisis in the capital deepened.

''We'll make statements and express our requests for the prime minister to help on land, land deeds and funding for organic fertiliser projects, then leave Bangkok,'' he said.

REUTERS

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