Huffpost Politics

Thai Protesters Lock Down Government, Demand Prime Minister Resigns

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BANGKOK, Thailand — Several thousand protesters besieged Thailand's seat of government Friday, delivering fiery anti-government speeches and singing nationalistic songs as they vowed to stay until the prime minister resigns.

After initially scuffling with the demonstrators, the police offered little resistance as crowds surged toward and pressed up against a fence on two sides of the Government House, a compound of ornate buildings from the 1920s.

The protesters, spearheaded by the People's Alliance for Democracy, claim that Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's government is a proxy for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup.

The group led mass protests before the coup, demanding Thaksin step down for alleged corruption and abuse of power.

They now accuse Samak's government of interfering with corruption charges against Thaksin and trying to change the constitution for its own self-interest.

An almost festive atmosphere prevailed as protesters _ many of them from Bangkok's middle class _ waved, cheered and chatted with security officials. Others, dressed in the alliance's trademark yellow, shouted "Thaksin out, Samak out."

By Friday evening, the crowd swelled further with people who had finished work for the day.

"I just want the government run correctly. This government is a puppet of Thaksin," said Winit Loh, a high school teacher from the northern city of Chiang Mai who came with two of his students.

Alliance leaders say they don't want to occupy the compound itself but plan to peacefully maintain a siege around it.

Chamlong Srimuang, an alliance leader, said the protesters would camp around the compound overnight and then stay on until Samak's four-month-old coalition government resigns.

Samak himself was not at Government House on Friday. He and all his ministers, as well as other government officials who normally work in the compound, were on leave or at other locations.

Samak, after meeting with the army commander and other senior security officials, declared the situation was under control and could be handled by police without help from the military, said deputy government spokesman Nattawut Sai-gua.

There were no immediate plans to declare a state of emergency or martial law, he said.

When a police spokesman was asked why police let the demonstrators occupy the streets outside Government House despite earlier vowing to block them, he said, "No one got hurt.

"There was no image of the police hurting Thai people and that's the most important thing and should satisfy our superiors on every level," the spokesman, Maj. Gen. Surapol Tuanthong, told Thai television station TPBS.

"The politicians will have to find their own political solution," he said.

In the afternoon, police radioed estimates that about 22,000 people were taking part in the protest. Alliance leaders gave far higher figures that appeared to be greatly inflated.

Reporters saw about a dozen protesters injured in the initial scuffles, but the police, although equipped with tear gas and water cannons, used minimal force. The Bangkok Post's Web site said seven police were injured.

Government spokesman Wichianchote Sukchotrat said schools and government offices near Government House had been ordered to close Friday for safety reasons and "to allow police to work smoothly."

Protesters also brought up other issues, including a disputed border region with Cambodia and high fuel and food prices, accusing the government of mismanaging the country.

Samak's People's Power Party won general elections in December. His Cabinet is packed with Thaksin's allies, and critics say rehabilitating the former leader is among the government's top priorities.

This time around, the military has repeatedly said it will stay out of the political fray.

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