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Thailand military-backed government to lift ban on political activity

() - June 1, 2007 - 4:50pm

BANGKOK (AP) - Thailand's military-backed government said Friday it would soon lift its eight-month ban on political activities so parties can prepare for year-end elections.

The ban, which included prohibition of all campaigning and meetings, was slapped on all political parties following last September's bloodless military coup, which overthrew the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Current Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont told reporters he hoped he could announce the lifting of the ban in one or two weeks, after some details have been worked out. He did not elaborate.

The announcement comes two days after a court banned the ousted prime minister's Thai Rak Thai party and barred 111 of its top leaders, including Thaksin, from political activity for five years due to election law violations.

The Constitutional Tribunal found the Democrat Party _ the country's oldest, and a bitter rival of Thai Rak Thai _ innocent of election law violations.

"Since the trial of political parties is over, it is about time to relax on political activities," Surayud said, reaffirming that elections will take place in December at the latest.

After the ban on political activity is lifted, Thai Rak Thai members not excluded for five years will be able to register a new party. Politicians across the board will be free to switch party affiliations or form new parties.

The court's decision dealt a major blow to Thaksin, and probably destroyed any chances that he could return to Thailand from his exile in London in the foreseeable future.

Although Thaksin still has a strong following in the countryside, the Thai Rak Thai's demise did not spark any violence as some had feared.

Thaksin supporters held a protest Thursday and were expected to launch more in the coming weeks, but they do not appear able to mobilize massive demonstrations.

Thai Rak Thai's downfall began when the military overthrew Thaksin, accusing him of corruption and abuse of power.

ALTHOUGH THAKSIN CONSTITUTIONAL TRIBUNAL CURRENT PRIME MINISTER SURAYUD CHULANONT DEMOCRAT PARTY POLITICAL PRIME MINISTER THAKSIN SHINAWATRA RAK SURAYUD THAI THAI RAK THAI THAKSIN
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