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Background: A unified Thai kingdom was established in the mid-14th century. Known as Siam until 1939, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been taken over by a European power. A bloodless revolution in 1932 led to a constitutional monarchy. In alliance with Japan during World War II, Thailand became a US treaty ally in 1954 after sending troops to Korea and fighting alongside the US in Vietnam. A military coup in September 2006 ousted then Prime Minister THAKSIN Chinnawat. December 2007 elections saw the pro-THAKSIN People's Power Party (PPP) emerge at the head of a coalition government that took office in February 2008. The anti-THAKSIN People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD, aka yellow-shirts) in May 2008 began street demonstrations against the new government, eventually occupying the prime minister's office in August and Bangkok's two international airports in November. After an early December 2008 court ruling that dissolved the ruling PPP and two other coalition parties for election violations, the Democrat Party formed a new coalition government and ABHISIT Wetchachiwa became prime minister. In October 2008 THAKSIN fled abroad in advance of an abuse of power conviction and has agitated his followers from abroad since then. THAKSIN supporters under the banner of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD, aka red-shirts) rioted in April 2009, shutting down an ASEAN meeting in Pattaya. Following a February 2010 court verdict confiscating half of THAKSIN's frozen assets, the UDD staged large protests between March and May 2010, and occupied several blocks of downtown Bangkok. Clashes between security forces and protesters, elements of which were armed, resulted in at least 92 deaths and an estimated $1.5 billion in arson-related property losses. These protests exposed major cleavages in the Thai body politic that continue to hamper the current government. The ABHISIT administration has announced a plan for a general election some time in 2011 ahead of its full term by the year-end. Since January 2004, thousands have been killed as separatists in Thailand's southern ethnic Malay-Muslim provinces increased the violence associated with their cause.
note: data are in 2010 US dollars
GDP (official exchange rate): $312.6 billion (2010 est.);
GDP - real growth rate: 7.6% (2010 est.); -2.2% (2009 est.); 2.5% (2008 est.);
GDP - per capita (PPP): $8,700 (2010 est.); $8,100 (2009 est.); $8,300 (2008 est.);
note: data are in 2010 US dollars
GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 10.4%; industry: 45.6%; services: 44% (2010 est.);
Population below poverty line: 9.6% (2006 est.);
Household income or consumption by percentage share: lowest 10%: 1.6%; highest 10%: 33.7% (2006);
Labor force: 38.7 million (2010 est.);
Labor force - by occupation: agriculture: 42.4%; industry: 19.7%; services: 37.9% (2008 est.);
Unemployment rate: 1.2% (2010 est.); 1.5% (2009);
Budget: revenues: $56.33 billion; expenditures: $56.87 billion (2010 est.);
Industries: tourism, textiles and garments, agricultural processing, beverages, tobacco, cement, light manufacturing such as jewelry and electric appliances, computers and parts, integrated circuits, furniture, plastics, automobiles and automotive parts; world's second-largest tungsten producer and third-largest tin producer;
Industrial production growth rate: 14.5% (2010 est.);
Electricity - production: 148.2 billion kWh (2008 est.);
Electricity - consumption: 134.4 billion kWh (2008 est.);
Electricity - exports: 846 million kWh (2009 est.);
Electricity - imports: 2.313 billion kWh (2009 est.);
Statistics: CIA World Factbook.
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(Entertainment and local news), Chiang Mai
(Center-right, mass-circulation), Bangkok
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Writing for Tokyo's Japan Times, Eric Teo Chu Cheow looks at the political and economic implications of Asia's bird flu epidemic.
What does the average Thai, picking up the morning newspaper, think of the situation in the Muslim-majority southern provinces of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat, and Satun?
Aung Naing Oo, writing for the Bangkok-based, Burmese-exile magazine The Irrawaddy, comments on the detention of Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
With SARS on the increase throughout Asia, papers throughout the region are shifted their focus from the Middle East to their own backyard. World Press Review associate editor Rachel S. Taylor surveys the local press.