Nov 28, 2008

World - Personalities at centre of Thai crisis

Owen Bowcott

As the deadlock in Thailand continues, Owen Bowcott profiles the key players.

Somchai Wongsawat (Prime Minister)
Brother-in-law to ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra, Somchai Wongsawat is a former appeal court judge who became Prime Minister in September after his predecessor, Samak Sundaravej, was removed by the constitutional court for hosting cooking shows while in office. His close relationship with Thaksin has opened him up to charges of nepotism, which he denies.

After his officers were occupied by protesters, his administration relocated to Don Muang airport. On Tuesday, the cabinet meet in an undisclosed location to prevent protesters, who have blockaded parliament, from closing it down.

General Anupong Paochinda (Commander in chief, Thai army)

Anupong was a leading member of the junta behind the 2006 coup that deposed Thaksin Shinawatra. He has declined to use force to clear protesters off the streets of Bangkok, fearing mass bloodshed. His call for fresh elections on Wednesday was seen by many as openly tilting the army’s sympathy towards the protesters from the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). Anupong has insisted that a coup will not resolve the country’s problems. He is said to be a Beatles fan and a keen drummer.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej (King of Thailand)

The world’s longest serving head of state, having ascended the throne in June 1946.

He is credited with being a restraining influence on the military, helping steer the country’s transition to democracy in the 1990s and supposedly heading off several coups. He has been a significant presence behind the scenes, persuading rival politicians to negotiate.

The yellow shirts worn by PAD protesters are a sign of loyalty to the crown.

Thaksin Shinawatra (Former Prime Minister)

A former police colonel from Chiang Mai, Thaksin Shinawatra set up one of Thailand’s first mobile telephone networks, growing the family fortune to an estimated £1.3bn. He founded Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) and was swept into office in 1999 with the first absolute majority in Thai history but was overthrown by a coup on September 19 2006 while attending a U.N. meeting in New York. Lived in exile in a mansion in Weybridge, Surrey, and later in a rented flat in Park Lane, London. In 2007 he bought Manchester City FC for £81.6m.

This month the U.K. withdrew the visas of Thaksin and his wife after they were convicted of corruption by Thailand’s supreme court. He now lives in the Middle East.

The protesters

There are nine prominent personalities at the head of the PAD, which wants the overthrow of the government. The two dominant figures are:

Major General Chamlong Srimuang

He led mass street protests against a military-backed government in 1992, which led to the last major crackdown by the Thai army. A former governor of Bangkok, he is a devout Buddhist and reported to be celibate and to have renounced all worldly possessions.

Sondhi Limthongkul

He is a former journalist and media owner who long ago fell out of sympathy with Thaksin. He has been accused of using his newspapers as a personal mouthpiece for his political views.

— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2008

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