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Defiant Thais mount fifth day of protests

Latest update : 2008-08-30

Following a night of clashes with police, Thai protesters demanding Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's resignation have adopted a quieter but unyielding occupation of the Government House compound on Saturday, in what is the fifth day of protests.

 

BANGKOK - Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej was under growing pressure on Saturday as protesters determined to topple him occupied his official compound amid reports the army chief had suggested he step down.

 

Samak returned to Bangkok after flying to the coastal town of Hua Hin late on Friday to meet King Bhumibol Adulyadej at his palace there, according to a senior government source who declined to be named.

 

The prime minister was expected to make an announcement in the evening, the source added.

 

An informal truce between the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) street protesters and the government came into effect on Saturday because of a nearby ceremony to be presided by Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn.

 

King Bhumibol is revered in Thailand and neither the PAD nor police can afford to be accused of offending him by sparking violence during the event, held in his honour.

 

Behind their makeshift barricades, thousands of protesters milled around the Government House compound, listened to speeches by their leaders. A Reuters reporter saw no police around the compound as the occupation entered its fifth day.

 

Clashes erupted briefly the previous evening when a 2,000-strong crowd attacked Bangkok’s police headquarters.  Around 30 were injured as police repelled them with rubber bullets and tear gas.

 

Samak met military officials on Friday, after which army chief Anupong Paochinda told reporters he had rejected the idea of imposing a state of emergency.

 

The Bangkok Post reported that Anupong spoke privately to Samak after the meeting and “suggested the prime minister consider stepping down or dissolving the House of Representatives as possible options”. This could not be confirmed.

 

AIRPORTS BLOCKED

 

Newspapers condemned Friday’s violence and chaos, which stretched to protesters blocking three airports, including on the tourist island of Phuket, and striking workers halting some rail services.

 

“The only acceptable form of damage limitation is a speedy return to conduct befitting a civilised society and the rule of law. To behave otherwise is to invite anarchy and chaos,” the Bangkok Post said in an editorial.

 

One of the airports, in the southern town of Hat Yai, was functioning again on Saturday.

 

The protests are being led by the PAD, a motley group of businessmen, academics and activists who accuse Samak of being an illegitimate proxy of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, now in exile in London. Samak denies the accusation.

 

The assault on police headquarters came hours after scuffles between PAD supporters and riot officers delivering a court eviction order to the gates of the protest zone.

 

The court later said it had retracted the order pending a PAD appeal.

 

The PAD proclaims itself to be a defender of the King against a supposed Thaksin plan to turn Thailand into a republic—a charge denied by both Thaksin and the government.

 

Thai shares have fallen 23 percent since the PAD’s street campaign began in May amid fears of policy paralysis at a time of stuttering economic growth and high inflation.

Date created : 2008-08-30

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