Protesters Face Police in Thailand
Friday, 29 August 2008

Protesters stood in the rain inside the the prime minister's compound in Bangkok on Wednesday.AP, BANGKOK — Thousands of anti-government protesters blockaded the prime minister's office on Wednesday and their leaders challenged the police to enter and arrest them.

Following a clash between protesters and the police earlier in the day that left several people injured, nearly 2,000 police officers with helmets and riot shields pressed in around the demonstrators, who were inside the prime minister's gated compound but did not enter the main building, called Government House.
 
The police said that a court had issued warrants for the arrests of nine of the protest leaders.
 
The raid by protesters on the prime minister's office, as well as on several other government buildings, which began building on Tuesday, were part of what the protesters called a "final push" after three months of demonstrations aimed at unseating the government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej.
 
"This government has to resign," said one of the leaders, Chamlong Srimuang, speaking in the broad courtyard of Government House. "If we leave before this government resigns it means we are defeated."
 
Mr. Chamlong, 72, a former governor of Bangkok, led similar anti-government demonstrations that succeeded in ousting a government in 1992. That uprising ended in bloodshed when soldiers fired into the crowds, killing about 50 people.
 
"I'm ready to be arrested," Mr. Chamlong said. "If they come, we will let them arrest us. If they want to put us in jail, we'll go to jail. We will be here. We aren't going anywhere."
 
He drew laughter when he said, "If we were afraid we would flee abroad." That was a reference to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who has sought political asylum in England saying he is being victimized by a series of corruption cases that are being brought against him.
 
Mr. Thaksin was ousted in a coup in September 2006 while he was traveling abroad. He returned to Thailand early this year but chose not to return again 11 days ago from a trip to Beijing as court dates approached.
 
Calling themselves the People's Alliance for Democracy, or P.A.D., the protesters held large demonstrations in 2006 that weakened Mr. Thaksin politically and set the political atmosphere for the coup.
 
They now accuse Mr. Samak of corruption and of being a puppet of Mr. Thaksin. But apart from calling for the downfall of the government, they are not offering a political program or a solution to the country's divisions.
 
On Tuesday they blockaded several government ministries and briefly forced a pro-government television station off the air.
 
Their continuing protest, even after Mr. Thaksin fled into exile, has wearied many in Bangkok's middle class who had also opposed Mr. Thaksin. Newspapers on Wednesday expressed exasperation with the continuing turmoil.
 
Calling the protests "unjustified, unnecessary, provocative and illegal," the English language daily The Bangkok Post said, "If the P.A.D. really wants to bring down the government, it should do so through the Parliament. That is the proper, democratic place to do it."
 
The country's other major English language daily, The Nation, said the protesters' motives "have gone from clear-cut to incomprehensible." It said, "With most, if not all, key contentious political issues now in the hands of the courts, the P.A.D.'s highly provocative action yesterday was completely uncalled-for."
 
The alliance, which has ties to the country's conservative elite and to elements of the military, draws much of its public support with assertions that it is protecting the monarchy.
 
Fanning themselves vigorously with small straw fans, its supporters sat under makeshift awnings Wednesday, many of them dressed in bright yellow, the color of the monarchy.
 
Various speakers took turns addressing the crowd, mixing denunciations of the government with complaints that the city was not providing them with enough portable toilets. In interviews, protesters asserted, Mr. like Chamlong, that they would stay as long as they had to. But some said they would soon run out of food.
 
It was not clear who was funding the prolonged demonstrations, many of whose participants had traveled from the countryside, but important business interests in the country oppose Mr. Thaksin and the people who surrounded him.
 
Mr. Chamlong said Wednesday that over the past six days he had received more than $250,000 worth of contributions in cash and gold to pay for the demonstrations. He did not name the donors.
 
On Tuesday, Mr. Samak said he had ordered the police to act gently and not to be provoked by the crowds into violence. "They want bloodshed in the country," he said, speaking in English. "They want the military to come out and do the coup again."
 
The army chief, Anupong Paochinda, who had been one of the leaders of the coup in 2006 that ousted Mr. Thaksin, asserted that the military would stand aside this time and would not be involved in politics.
 
The coup scenario, which has been common in Thailand over the past half century, lost much of its appeal after the ouster of Mr. Thaksin, when a military-led government was widely seen as incompetent and ineffectual.
 
When it stepped aside for new elections last December, Mr. Thaksin's supporters, led by Mr. Samak, moved back in again to fill the vacuum.

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