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Protesters in 'final battle' to oust government

Video by NELSON RAND

Text by AFP

Latest update : 2008-11-23

Anti-government protesters take to the streets on Sunday in a protest march to the parliament, calling it their 'final battle' to oust the government, which they accuse of being a puppet of exiled leader Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thai protesters laying siege to state offices gathered Sunday for a rally which they say will be a final push to topple the government, putting Thailand on edge after a week of escalating violence.
  
Calls for the fresh demonstration and a march to parliament ahead of a session Monday came after a string of attacks at Government House -- the prime minister's cabinet offices which protesters have occupied since late August.
  
"I am confident in the strength of the people. We will definitely go to parliament," said anti-government leader Chamlong Srimuang. Local media said the march was planned for early Monday.
  
Thai television showed images of police manning steel barricades outside the parliament building and firetrucks parked nearby, while officials said they would try handle the protest peacefully but were ready to call in the military.
  
"Force will not be used if it is not necessary," deputy national police spokesman Surapol Tuanthong told reporters. "Police will also ask the army for assistance if police do not have enough man power."
  
On Thursday, one protester was killed and 29 wounded when a rocket-propelled grenade exploded in the middle of the Bangkok protest site, while on Saturday eight people were injured by a similar bomb.
  
The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protest group has blamed the government for both attacks, and has called for supporters throughout the country to join them Sunday for a "last battle" against the administration.
  
The government has denied any link to the recent attacks, and Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat has promised a swift police investigation.
  
The PAD claim the ruling People Power Party (PPP) elected last December is running Thailand on behalf of Thaksin Shinawatra, the premier ousted in a 2006 coup who was last month sentenced to two years in jail on corruption charges.
  
While a sea of people dressed in yellow -- the colour linked to the Thai king, to whom the PAD claim loyalty -- prepared for their march at Government House, their detractors in red and white shirts gathered elsewhere.
  
Police said about 10,000 pro-Thaksin supporters had descended on a Buddhist temple just outside Bangkok on Sunday to support the government. Leaders of that movement told AFP they had no intention of locking horns with the PAD.
  
"We will not move anywhere," said pro-government coordinator Chinawat Haboonnak, as Thaksin's fans performed a temple ceremony.
  
"We will not support anyone who wants to go to parliament. We don't want a clash."
  
Thaksin fled the country in August but a power battle is raging between those who support the charismatic former leader, and the old power elite in the military, palace and bureaucracy who want to purge Thailand of his influence.
  
The PAD launched their campaign in May and about 1,000 anti-Thaksin protesters have been camped out at Government House since late August. Eye witnesses said their numbers had swelled to the thousands on Sunday morning.
  
Anchalee Paireerak, a spokeswoman for the PAD, told cheering crowds at Government House that PAD loyalists from the south were flocking to Bangkok. Thaksin's support base, meanwhile, is in the poorer northeast.
  
A march aimed at preventing a parliament session on October 7 erupted into the worst street violence Bangkok had seen in 16 years, as police and protesters clashed, leaving two people dead and nearly 500 injured.
  
Those clashes and the recent bomb attacks in and around Government House have raised fears of more bloodshed this week, with the English-language Nation newspaper saying Sunday "the fate of the country hangs in the balance."
  
Leaders of the umbrella union of state enterprises have said they will call a strike if the government does not step down. They set a deadline for Tuesday, but similar calls in the past have not been widely heeded by union members.

Date created : 2008-11-23

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