Thailand’s government must hold elections soon to prove it has a public mandate after protests that left 90 dead in the nation’s capital, a lawyer for Thailand’s fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said on Wednesday.

Robert Amsterdam, who represents Mr. Thaksin, said the government’s handling of the Red Shirt protests demonstrated it does not have the support of the people and fears the return of Mr. Thaksin, whom it has called a terrorist for allegedly fomenting the unrest.

Mr. Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup.

New elections are a top demand of the Red Shirt movement, which is made up of urban and rural poor, democracy activists and politicians loyal to Mr. Thaksin. Now in self—exile in Europe, Mr. Thaksin faces charges of corruption and abuse of power but commands a strong following because of his populist policies.

"Arrest warrant a tactical mistake"

The Thai government has also issued a warrant for Mr. Thaksin’s arrest on terrorism charges, a move Mr. Amsterdam said was a tactical mistake.

“I think they made a serious mistake in calling him a terrorist,” Mr. Amsterdam said. “I think they have reduced their chances of any country extraditing him” because of the possibility of a death penalty that the charges carry.

“These people are scared of Thaksin,” he said. “They are scared of someone elected by the people.”

The protests, which were crushed in May, started peacefully in mid—March but turned violent as the government tried to end them. At least 90 people were killed and arson damaged more than 30 buildings.

Mr. Amsterdam, who is based in London, was in Japan to urge the government to support an investigation into the causes of the violence, in which a Japanese journalist was killed.

Deep social divisions

Thai officials have said the government does not want to rush into elections before dealing with the deep social divisions that sparked the clashes. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s term ends in November next year, and they have said it was unlikely that elections would be held this year.

Mr. Amsterdam called that “outrageous” and demanded elections be held soon.

“The real legitimate leader of the Thai people happens to be Dr. Thaksin,” he said.

Opponents see Mr. Abhisit as illegitimate because his Democratic party did not win the last general elections in 2007. His government was elected by parliamentary vote last year after two previous administrations loyal to Mr. Thaksin were invalidated by court rulings.

Although the protests were stopped, the pro—Thaksin Red Shirt movement remains strong.

Thousands of mourners filed through a Buddhist temple in Bangkok on Tuesday to attend the cremation of Maj. Gen. Khattiya Sawasdiphol, who was shot in the head by a sniper May 13 while giving interviews to foreign journalists.

It was the largest gathering of Red Shirts since the army’s crackdown on their protest on May 19.

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