07/27/2007, 00.00
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Nine anti-coup protest organisers in prison

First violent clashes between demonstrators and police since last September coup take place. Military get higher defence budget and start to fill key civilian posts. For experts the old ruling triad—monarchy, military, bureaucracy—is back on top, unwilling to cede power.

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Nine alleged leaders of a violent anti-government protest that took place last Saturday in Thailand have been detained on charges of illegal assembly and inciting violence and are considered a threat to society. Meanwhile the government is preparing to hold a nationwide referendum on a new constitution but many fear that they might not relinquish power.

At the end of a day of drama, the Criminal Court granted yesterday a police request to detain the nine leaders of an anti-coup protest organised by the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DAAD). Outside the courthouse a small crowd of supporters cheered the detainees.

Four of the nine detained men are allies of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was removed from power in September 2006 by a military coup and replaced by Surayud Chulanont, a retired general and a former advisor to King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

On Saturday thousands of anti-coup protesters demonstrated in front of the home of Prem Tinsulanonda, also a former senior adviser to the Thai king, accused by many of orchestrating last September's military coup. More than 100 people were injured in the clashes that ensued.

The police accused the demonstrators of throwing rocks and bottles as its agents moved in to disperse them. Protesters countered saying that police started the incident by trying to arrest some of the speakers.

Many demonstrations have taken place after the coup but this one was the first to turn violent.

In the meantime Thais are counting the days till August 19 when a constitutional referendum is scheduled to take place. New elections should follow within a year.

Many analysts remain sceptical about the military’s real willingness to give up power.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, said he believed the military was already preparing its power base for when an elected civilian government returned.

Military budgets for this year and next have risen a combined 66 per cent. And a proposed law would strengthen the shadowy role and emergency powers of a crack internal security command, placing it under military rather than civilian control.

Military figures have also emerged in charge of state-owned enterprises.

Professor Thitinan told the South China Morning Post that to counter Thaksin’s unprecedented power, the military sought to perpetuate the "Holy Trinity" of the ruling establishment: monarch, military and bureaucracy.

“They don't want to risk losing that in the twilight of the king's reign,” he said.

Many political analysts are also watching coup leader and junta head General Sondhi Boonyaratkalin, who is due to retire in September.

“General Sondhi will have to enter politics," Professor Thitinan said, if he wants “to be able to control post-election Thailand.”

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