Thai protests enter second day

November 25, 2008 12:00 am

, BANGKOK, November 25 – 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 demonstrators 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 latest show of force came a day after thousands of protesters 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).

The PAD accuses the government elected in December last year of being tainted by corruption and of being a puppet of exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup.

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.

"There are about 10,000 protesters at Don Mueang," a police spokesman said.

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.

Despite the early morning start the atmosphere was festive and the PAD set up counters to distribute free food and drinks to protesters.

Sawit, who is also secretary-general of Thailand’s main public sector union, said that 190,000 union members would stage a nationwide strike on Tuesday, although there was little sign of any disruption.

"It will begin today," said Sawit, following the pledge made last week by the State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation to go on strike if the government did not resign.

Some domestic flights operate from another part of the airport, which was the city’s main terminal until two years ago, but Airports of Thailand reported no problems with services.

Numbers at Monday’s protests were lower than expected by the PAD, although the demonstrators managed to fan out to several government buildings as well as sending an advance party to the airport.

The rallies were called in response to a grenade attack on Thursday that killed one protester and wounded another 29. A second attack on Saturday left another man dead.

The alliance says it wants to cripple the government of Somchai, who is Thaksin’s brother-in-law, but government spokesman Nattawut Saikuar said the weekly cabinet meeting normally scheduled Tuesday was not taking place.

"The cabinet meeting was rescheduled on Wednesday afternoon after prime minister Somchai arrives from Lima (from an APEC summit). The government has not cancelled or postponed its meeting," Nattawut told AFP.

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

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

Billionaire telecoms tycoon Thaksin fled the country in August this year but a power battle is raging between those who support him and his foes in the old power elite in the military, palace and bureaucracy.

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 the government and also affected the economy in Thailand, which was the country at the centre of the 1997 Asian financial crisis.


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