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Thai cops uncover plot to kill PM

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Fugitive red-shirt leader, whose home had a weapons cache, says he was framed

BANGKOK: Thai police say fugitive red-shirt leader Wutthipong Kachathamkhun and his followers planned to destabilise the country through assassinations and violent protest against the ruling junta.

The red-shirt movement is a political group loyal to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The fugitive leader, who is known by his alias, Ko Tee, and whose house was raided for weapons on Saturday, defended himself through a YouTube-based radio programme, suggesting the raid was a government set-up.

Thai police said on Sunday they found dozens of rifles and grenades, and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

They also said they had uncovered a plot to assassinate Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, after seizing the weapons cache.

Police also arrested nine men in connection with the arms seizure, saying they had clear evidence the suspects and their extended network were aiming to cause unrest.

"We found a rifle with a scope. We guarantee that this is not to shoot at birds, and was going to be used to assassinate the leader of the country," national police chief Jakthip Chaijinda told reporters on Sunday.

General Prayuth, then the army chief, overthrew the government of Mr Thaksin's sister Yingluck in a 2014 coup.

The police chief said Wutthipong is believed to be behind groups that have instigated mobs of supporters to oppose the government crackdown on the Dhammakaya temple.

Police said one of the nine in custody was at the temple when Wutthipong and others were moving to mobilise temple followers to oppose the government crackdown.

They also said there were plans to assassinate national leaders based on a YouTube-based radio programme hosted by a person using the alias Sahai Ma Noi.

Spokesman for National Council for Peace and Order Piyapong Klinphan said the raid on a house formerly occupied by the red-shirt leader should not affect ongoing reconciliation efforts, as it was part of the government's policy to maintain law and order.