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Tension rises as Thaksin gets ready to address supporters

THAILAND: Tensions rose in Thailand on Friday as deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra prepared to give a televised address to supporters who have been holding daily protests against the country’s coup leaders.

The evening rally was expected to draw thousands of pro-Thaksin supporters anxious to hear their deposed leader give a speech from self-imposed exile in London. Supporters were told Thursday that Thaksin speech would be broadcast live via satellite Friday night.

Coup leaders, who deposed Thaksin in a bloodless takeover last September while he was overseas, said they would allow the speech to go forward but warned that they would impose emergency rule if there is any violence related at the Thaksin rally.

“If the situation deteriorates, the government will have to declare the state of emergency to allow the security forces to control the situation,” Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont told reporters.

Bangkok Police Commissioner Lt. Gen. Adisorn Nontree said he was bracing for a large crowd at Sanam Luang grounds near the Grand Palace, adding that 15,000 police officers and soldiers would be on hand to provide security.

The capital has been on edge in recent days, with rumors of a coup or military clampdown circulated amid jitters that Thaksin could return and set off a confrontation between his supporters and the current government.

Talk of Thaksin’s return intensified Monday after the Assets Examination Committee froze 52.88 billion baht (US$1.63 billion; euro1.22 billion) of assets held by Thaksin and his family.

The move against Thaksin followed a court ruling May 30 which ordered Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party dissolved, and barred its entire leadership of 111 people including Thaksin from public office for five years.

Meanwhile thirteen schools have been set on fire in southern Thailand, where teachers have increasingly become the targets of a bloody conflict.

The Thai authorities have blamed Muslim insurgents for a series of recent attacks on schools, as part of their separatist campaign.

The violence in the region has killed more than 2,200 people since 2004. More than 200 schools have been torched and 77 teachers killed, according to education officials.

This appears to have been a co-ordinated attack - 13 schools set on fire almost simultaneously on Wednesday evening. Hours later a bomb exploded in front of another school.

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