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Protesters go into day two of PM office siege

Video by Regane RANUCCI

Text by AFP

Latest update : 2008-11-25

Thousands of anti-government demonstrators continued their storming of the prime minister's offices, temporarily housed at an abandoned Bangkok airport, on the second day of marches aimed at toppling the elected government.

Thousands of Thai protesters besieged the prime minister's temporary offices at an abandoned Bangkok airport Tuesday, on the second day of marches aimed at toppling the elected government.

Yellow-clad activists took trucks, buses and cars to the old Don Mueang international airport -- where premier Somchai Wongsawat set up shop after activists captured the capital's main government offices in August.

The show of force came a day after thousands of demonstrators descended on parliament in what they have called the "final battle" against the administration, forcing lawmakers to postpone a joint session.

"There are more than 10,000 of us here and we are prepared for a long siege like at Government House (in central Bangkok)," said Sawit Kaoewan, a leader of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD). Police confirmed the figure.

The PAD, which is backed by the old power elite in the military, palace and bureaucracy, accuses the government of being a corrupt puppet of exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup.

The alliance has called on the army to intervene and says it wants to change the one-man one-vote electoral system that has delivered victories for Thaksin -- who is Somchai's brother-in-law -- and his allies since 2001.

Police largely withdrew from the airport site overnight and were hardly visible on Tuesday morning, amid fears of a repeat of violent clashes during rallies on October 7 that left two dead and 500 injured.

They waved Thai flags and rattled the anti-government movement's signature plastic hand clappers, while most wore yellow clothes that symbolise loyalty to the country's deeply revered king, AFP correspondents said.

Protest leaders asked supporters not to occupy Somchai's office itself -- but some went in and out of the building to use the toilets. The PAD meanwhile set up counters to distribute free food and drinks to protesters.

Somchai is due to fly home early Wednesday from an APEC summit in Peru, and the PAD said it was moving people to the military headquarters where he and his cabinet are expected to hold a meeting.

"Our guerrillas will chase them," said Somsak Kosaisuk, another core PAD leader. "If tomorrow Somchai gets off the airplane and wants to hold a meeting at the armed forces headquarters, we will walk there to prevent it."

The government said the regular Tuesday cabinet meeting had been put back to Wednesday after the prime minister returns, but said the move had nothing to do with the protests.

"They wanted to blockade the government, they want to step up pressure on us but the government still adheres to peaceful means of negotiation," government spokesman Nattawut Saikuar said.

Meanwhile government-run corporations said there was no response to a strike call by Thailand's main public sector union, the State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation, which has 190,000 members.

Authorities said there was also no effect on the handful of domestic flights that operate from another part of Don Mueang.

The PAD called this week's rallies in response to a grenade attack on Thursday that killed one protester and wounded another 29. Another man died in a second attack on Saturday.

The movement launched huge street protests in 2006 that led to the anti-Thaksin coup and it is trying the same tactic with the current administration.

Multi-millionaire Thaksin fled the country in August this year to avoid corruption charges. His populist policies won electoral support, especially among the rural poor, but he is loathed by Thailand's old guard.

The PAD has claimed the support of Queen Sirikit ever since she donated money towards medical expenses and attended the funeral of one of those killed in October's clashes.

The protests have meanwhile partly paralysed policymaking and affected the economy in Thailand, which was the country at the centre of the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

Date created : 2008-11-25