BANGKOK, August 29 – Defiant Thai protesters scuffled with riot police Friday as tensions flared on day four of a siege of Bangkok’s main government compound aimed at forcing the premier to resign.,
Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej has so far kept his promise not to use violence to end the massive demonstrations, which represent the biggest challenge to his authority since he took power seven months ago.
Thousands of demonstrators have barricaded themselves in the government complex in the capital, accusing Samak of being a mere figurehead for ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and insisting that he must step down.
Demonstrators overnight managed to expel about 1,000 police from their protest camp while police found a stash of weapons including machetes and golf clubs, but Samak said he would stick to his peaceful approach.
"Police will still adhere to my earlier order — they merely went to post a court order, not to clear protesters," he told reporters.
Riot police forced their way back into the grounds of Government House on Friday, pushing protesters with their shields. They also used batons to prevent a mob of angry protesters from entering the compound.
Colonel Noraboon Nanna, a police officer on the scene, said about 13,000 protesters remained inside the compound, with 8,000 police surrounding it.
Legal executors tried to enter to post a court injunction ordering the protesters to leave, but the demonstrators blocked them, forcing police to post the order on a lamppost close to the site.
"We have come here to get them to acknowledge the court order," said the deputy chief of the metropolitan police, Major General Akerach Meepreecha.
"We will wait, we will give them time," he said, adding: "If there is no reaction, the police will have to do something."
The People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) has been demonstrating against Samak for months, but events took a new turn on Tuesday when protesters stormed a TV station and barricaded themselves inside the Government House grounds.
The courts have ordered the protesters to leave the site immediately and issued arrest warrants for nine of the ringleaders on charges including treason, but PAD leaders have appealed to the courts on both counts.
Suriyasai Katasila, a PAD spokesman, told the crowd late Thursday that it would appeal against the warrants because of the "over-the-top charges, especially the charge of treason."
His ally Sawit Kaoewan later announced the group would broaden its attack by holding national strikes across the railways and other state enterprises.
Youdtana Tupcharoen, governor of the State Railways of Thailand, said 248 drivers and mechanics called in sick on Friday, halting of a quarter of all services in the kingdom.
The PAD — which despite its name is trying to bring down Samak’s elected government began its campaign at the end of May, just over three months after the coalition government was formed.
Protesters at the besieged government compound began to erect a second stage on Friday morning, in a further sign of their resolve to stay.
More than 13,000 people stayed for the third night of the protest, camped out with makeshift washing lines alongside barriers of tyres and barbed wire.
PAD protests helped lead to the 2006 coup that unseated Thaksin, and the entry into government of his ally Samak has infuriated the country’s old power elites in the military and palace.
They also object to Samak’s plans to amend a constitution drafted and approved under military rule following the coup.
A poll Wednesday showed the majority of Bangkok residents were fed up with the protesters claiming loyalty to the revered monarchy, while the local press has praised Samak’s handling of the crisis.