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Thailand faces revived protests

Weeklong antigovernment rallies have raised concerns of a second coup in two years.

Prime MInister: Protesters want Samak Sundaravej to resign.

Sukree Sukplang/Reuters

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Two years after mass antigovernment protests convulsed Thai politics, scared off foreign investors, and culminated in a military coup, the barricades are back. For more than a week, thousands of Thais have flocked to a protest camp on a downtown royal avenue where many of the nation's past political dramas played out, sometimes violently.

The same organizers who led the 2006 campaign have vowed to stay on the streets until they bring down Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, who took office in February after democratic elections that ended 16 months of military rule. They also want to see former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whom the military ousted, put on trial for corruption.

The revival of rowdy street rallies, which has fanned speculation of another coup, is a reminder that Thailand's political troubles are far from over. Instead, they may be intensifying as rivals for power joust over the future makeup of the political elite, including the role of the monarchy, military, and other traditional power bases.

Analysts say the result is likely to be greater instability and a drift in economic policymaking at a time when Asian governments are grappling with inflation.

"A lot of people were giving this government nine to 12 months, but it may only get six to nine months with the way that things are going," says James Klein, country director of the Asia Foundation.

Among the gloomier scenarios is a perpetual cycle of politicking, protests, and military meddling that recalls the Philippines and other coup-prone democracies. Most observers say Thailand isn't in this camp yet, though. They play down the prospect of another coup, pointing to divisions among the generals and the lackluster showing of the last military government.

Western diplomats warn that international reaction to a military power grab would be much harsher than in 2006.

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