Thai protest leaders surrender but no end to turmoil in sight
Saturday, 11 October 2008

AFP, BANGKOK - Leaders of mounting anti-government protests surrendered to police Friday, but there were few signs that the move will end political turmoil in Thailand days after deadly street clashes.

Seven People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) leaders turned themselves in after police issued arrest warrants for illegal assembly and inciting unrest, but their lawyer was confident they would be swiftly released on bail.
 
"I am not worried at all. If they are denied bail, then we will take it to the court," lawyer Suwat Apaipak told reporters at a police station near the prime minister's offices, which PAD supporters have occupied since late August.
 
Thousands of protesters Tuesday marched on parliament to try and stop a speech by new Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, prompting clashes with police which left two dead and hundreds injured in the worst street violence in Bangkok in years.
 
Efforts by Somchai -- who has been premier for just over three weeks -- to end the months-long campaign against his party have so far failed, and his government appears to have few allies left.
 
Even his former chief negotiator with the protesters said in an interview with the Bangkok Post on Friday that he saw no peaceful way out of the turmoil.
 
"A House dissolution cannot solve the problem," said Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, who became the first casualty of the protests against the current cabinet when he resigned as deputy prime minister on Tuesday.
 
"The problem can be solved by three institutions -- the monarchy, which remains politically neutral, the military, which appears to be not interested in intervening, and the government, which stays above the problem," he said.
 
"So I see (the answer in) a putsch. After the military steps in, power should be immediately returned to the people and an interim government can be formed in which every party takes part," he told the English-language daily.
 
The PAD launched their street campaign in late May, claiming the ruling People Power Party (PPP) is running the nation on behalf of outed premier Thaksin Shinawatra and only came to power because of vote buying in December elections.
 
Turmoil escalated on August 26 when PAD supporters stormed the prime minister's Government House offices, prompting the Criminal Court to issue arrest warrants for nine PAD leaders on charges including insurrection.
 
But the Appeals Court on Thursday revoked arrest warrants on the serious charges of insurrection, paving the way
 
for the seven men including senior PAD leader and co-founder Sondhi Limthongkul to give themselves up.
 
Also Thursday, the Criminal Court freed the two other PAD leaders Chamlong Srimuang and Chaiwat Sinsuwong on bail, in a ruling greeted by jubilant PAD supporters at Government House as a victory.
 
The PPP has since its election been beset by protests and court decisions against it, one of which removed Somchai's predecessor Samak Sundaravej from office last month and brought in the new cabinet.
 
Thaksin now lives in England and is seeking political asylum, claiming he will not get a fair trial on corruption charges that were launched by the junta which toppled him in a coup in September 2006.
 
The army has so far said it will not step in and stage another coup to end the turmoil.

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