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Thai PM faces challenge from election commission

By the CNN Wire staff
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'Red shirts' shut down festival
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruling party to fight election commission's recommendation that it be dissolved
  • Demonstrators have no plans to march to the Army HQ where PM has been staying
  • Fatality count from Saturday's deadly police-protester clashes updated to 23
  • Protesters demanding PM dissolve parliament's lower house and call new elections

Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) -- Prime Minster Abhisit Vejjajiva's ruling Democrat Party says it will fight a recommendation by the country's election commission that it be dissolved, as Thailand's political crisis showed no signs of abating Wednesday.

The Bangkok Emergency Medical Service updated the fatality count from Saturday's deadly police-protester clashes to 23 -- up from 21 on Tuesday.

More than 850 others were wounded in the clashes, of whom 195 remained hospitalized Wednesday, the service said.

Meanwhile, the demonstrators said Wednesday they had no plans to march to the Army's 11th infantry regiment headquarters where Abhisit has been staying -- as was earlier reported.

Video: 'Red shirt' camp life in Thailand
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Instead, the demonstrators intended to spend the day vacating one of two locations in the capital where they have camped out by the thousands, said Weng Tojirakarn, a leader with the anti-government United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship.

The party was giving up the Phan Fa bridge rally site to join up with supporters at Ratchaprasong intersection, at the heart of Bangkok's commercial center.

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The protesters have been demanding for days that Abhisit dissolve the lower house of the parliament and call new elections.

Now, Abhisit has a new crisis to deal with.

iReport: Red Shirts decamp Phan Fa Lilat

On Monday, Thailand's election commission -- an independent government body that oversees races and can disqualify candidates -- recommended the dissolution of his party. The commission accused the Democrat Party of accepting an $8 million campaign donation from a private company and for mishandling funds the commission allocated to it.

The commission's recommendation will now be considered by the country's attorney general's office. If it agrees, the country's Constitution Court will ultimately issue a ruling.

If the 64-year-old party is dissolved, its senior leaders -- including Abhisit -- will be banned from politics for five years.

The process can take up to six months.

But if successful, it will be eerily reminiscent of events two years ago that brought the Democrats to power.

In 2008, the court dissolved the then-ruling People Power Party, citing electoral fraud.

The court's decision barred Thaksin's predecessor, Somchai Wongsawat, from holding public office for five years.

Somchai and the anti-government protesters, the Red Shirts, share a commonality.

The Red Shirts are supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a bloodless military coup in 2006.

Somchai is Thaksin's brother-in-law, and his People Power Party was often accused of being a proxy presence for Thaksin.

Thaksin fled the country in 2008 while facing trial on corruption charges that he says were politically motivated. But he remains hugely popular.

Speaking at a forum at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland on Monday, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Pirmoya called Thaksin a "bloody terrorist" who has to return home to serve jail time before he is allowed to participate in politics again.

He blamed Thaksin for Thailand's unrest and criticized countries such as Russia, Germany and the United Arab Emirates, which has allowed the former prime minister in.

"Everyone is playing naive, closing their eyes and so on, simply because he was once an elected leader," Kasit said. "Hitler was elected, Mussolini was elected, even Stalin could say that he was elected also but what did they do to their very society?"

Weng, the anti-government leader, denied the foreign minister's claims that Thaksin was funding the current movement -- saying the money is coming from donations.

The political unrest has cast a shadow over Thai new year festivities.

The government canceled events related to the three-day holiday, citing the spiraling protests.

But the Red Shirts spent the first day Tuesday, throwing water at each other -- a departure from the tension of recent days.

The act is a ritualistic gesture meant to cleanse one another for the new year.

"Many people participated. Most were friendly and cheerful," resident Varodom Toochinda told iReport -- the CNN Web site that allows people to submit pictures and videos. "For the reds, I think they could set their mind free during the festival."

CNN's Arwa Damon contributed to this report.

 
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