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Thai pro-gov't 'Red Shirts' vow election support

BANGKOK--Thai government supporters Wednesday threw their support behind upcoming elections in the crisis-hit nation, warning that calls by opposition protesters to suspend the country's democracy risked “absolute dictatorship.”

Bangkok has been shaken by more than a month of mass opposition demonstrations aimed at ousting Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and ridding the kingdom of the influence of her older brother, deposed former leader Thaksin.

On Monday Yingluck called an early election — set for Feb. 2 — to try to calm the political turmoil. But opposition leader Suthep Thaugsuban rejected the move, demanding the government step aside in favor of an unelected “people's council.”

The Red Shirt protest movement, which is largely loyal to Thaksin, urged people to take part in the vote regardless of which party they support.

“If you choose Suthep's side, you choose absolute dictatorship,” Red Shirt leader Nattawut Saikuea said at a press conference Wednesday.

“If you don't accept what Suthep does you must cast a vote — this is not a mission for the Red Shirts alone, but the entire Thai people,” he said.

Thailand has seen several bouts of political turmoil since Thaksin was ousted in a military coup in 2006, with rival protests spilling into the streets in sometimes bloody unrest.

Yingluck said Wednesday she was confident the military would not launch another coup to try to end the political crisis, despite its history of seizing power.

The coup-makers who ousted her older brother Thaksin seven years ago realized that it “doesn't solve any problems,” she said.

“I don't think the military will do that again,” she told foreign reporters.

Thailand has seen 18 actual or attempted coups since it became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

But army chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha said last week problems should be “solved by politics”.

The political conflict broadly pits a Bangkok-based middle class and a royalist elite backed by the military against rural and working-class voters loyal to Thaksin.

He lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai to avoid a jail term for corruption that he claims was politically motivated.

But critics say he controls his sister's government behind the scenes.

Parties allied to the tycoon have won every election since 2001, most recently with a landslide victory for Yingluck's Puea Thai in 2011.

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