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Page last updated at 11:01 GMT, Monday, 29 December 2008

Thai PM speech off amid protests

Banners acuse PM Abhisit of leading a puppet government
Protesters surround parliament calling on PM Abhisit to quit

Thailand's new Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has been forced to put off his opening speech to parliament due to anti-government protests.

Hundreds of protesters loyal to deposed leader Thaksin Shinawatra surrounded parliament on Monday, after tens of thousands also gathered on Sunday.

The speech has now been rescheduled for Tuesday morning.

Protesters say Mr Abhisit - the third prime minister in four months - has no mandate to lead and should resign.

He was elected in a parliamentary vote two weeks ago, after a court dissolved the former government, seen as close to Thaksin.

He now faces crowds of red-clad opponents on the streets who say they object to his route to power.

Delay

Monday's speech was at first repeatedly delayed and has now been put off until Tuesday, senior parliamentary sources said.

Pro-Thaksin protestors at Sanam Luang, near the royal palace in Bangkok

It will depend on lawmakers getting safe passage to parliament. Protest organisers have insisted they will not prevent members of parliament entering the building, but have dared them to leave their vehicles and face protesters as they do.

But the Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugusban has said this is too dangerous.

Some reports suggest that if the protests continue the speech - which was expected to outline measures to try to boost Thailand's ailing economy - could even be put off until the new year.

Under the constitution, a new Thai government cannot start work officially until it delivers its policy statement to a joint sitting of the House of Representatives and Senate.

No mandate?

Mr Abhisit was elected by parliament after a court required the dissolution of parties in the ruling coalition.

He has tried to distance himself from an earlier wave of protests against the previous Thaksin-backed government which had forced the closure of the country's airports for eight days.

But members of his new government, including the foreign minister, took part in those protests.

Those yellow-clad protesters are called the Peoples' Alliance for Democracy or PAD.

The new wave of protests, led by red-clad Thaksin loyalists, are called the Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship.

Slogans on banners included "Abhisit get out, this is a prostitute's government", "We are ready to protect Thaksin", "Give us back real democracy" and "Government of treason".

Power struggle

Mr Thaksin was ousted from the prime minister's job in a military coup in 2006, but elections in December 2007 under a new constitution returned his loyalists to power.

Several governments led by his supporters collapsed under the weight of court rulings against them, PAD protests and a defection within parliament by a formerly pro-Thaksin faction.

Now his supporters are on the streets in moves to blockade parliament reminiscent of the protests mounted against them when they were in power.

Mr Abhisit had promised a government of reconciliation and economic recovery.

New Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij said last week that the country's export-driven economy would shrink in the fourth quarter and barely grow in 2009.

Mr Korn, an Oxford-trained former investment banker, projected 2009 growth at between 0% and 2%, the worst in a decade.

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