Thai PM vows action as protesters besiege state offices
Thursday, 28 August 2008

BANGKOK (AFP) - Thai premier Samak Sundaravej on Tuesday vowed "decisive action" to end escalating anti-government rallies, as thousands of protesters stormed a state-run TV station and blockaded key ministries.

At least 20,000 protesters demanding his resignation seized the television station, invaded the grounds of the seat of government and besieged at least three ministries in their efforts to cripple Samak's administration.
 
Samak, who was elected in December and formed his coalition government in February, warned that his patience was running out.
 
"Police will use all means to restore normalcy as soon as possible," Samak said in a televised address to the nation. "Police will take decisive action against the protesters ... government restraint is almost over.
 
"I ask all the protesters who have been blockading or occupying government offices that you still have a chance to withdraw and go back to your homes."
 
Major General Surapol Tuanthong, deputy national police spokesman, told reporters that the thousands of protesters who besieged the Government House compound had until 6:00pm (1100 GMT) to leave.
 
"Otherwise they will be asked to leave," he said. "They have caused disorder and breached the law."
 
Samak, who has appointed Interior Minister Kowit Wattana to oversee the police operation, said he would not step aside and played down rumours of another coup.
 
"I will not resign, I will stay to protect this country," Samak said.
 
"The military will not allow the protesters to take control of the country. However, it is not the time yet for military force," he added.
 
The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which has been protesting since May, claims Samak is running the country on behalf of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and is barred from holding office.
 
The demonstrators marched before dawn on Government House and the office of the National Broadcasting Service of Thailand, forcing its staff to switch to another location.
 
"Today is judgement day," PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul told cheering crowds, most wearing yellow shirts as a mark of allegiance to revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, to whom they claim loyalty.
 
A first attempt to take the station ended with the arrest of 80 protesters. Police charged them with trespassing and seized a handgun, slingshots and golf clubs.
 
Thousands more protesters waving national flags and banners marched through the government district, vowing to blockade major government buildings.
 
Crowds broke down police barriers and entered the grounds of Government House, the finance ministry and the Bangkok Metropolitan Police headquarters. They also surrounded the agriculture and transport ministries.
 
"The easiest way to restore normalcy is for prime minister Samak to quit," said PAD spokesman Suriyasai Katasila.
 
"If we do not receive a clear and positive response, we will prolong the rally to the next day and mobilise more protesters."
 
Thailand's powerful army chief earlier urged calm, insisting the military would not overthrow the government to quell the protests.
 
"The military will not stage a coup d'etat. The public must not panic and must carry on their daily lives. The army will not get involved in politics," General Anupong Paojinda told reporters.
 
Police Colonel Ekachai Pratyavutirat, an officer overseeing the protests, estimated that about 23,000 demonstrators had flooded the streets. A police spokesman said 3,000 police officers had been deployed to maintain order.
 
Some 2,500 people were also protesting on roads in the north, northeast and south of Thailand, highways police chief Colonel Somyos Promnim told AFP.
 
PAD protests in early 2006 helped lead to the coup that unseated Thaksin, and the entry to government of his ally Samak infuriated the old power elites in the military and palace, who resented Thaksin's hold on rural voters.

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