Mon, Mar 20, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Thai protesters say they're going nowhere

UNWELCOME The Thai government is losing patience with thousands of demonstrators who have already kept up their protests for about a week

AP AND AFP , BANGKOK

Buddhist monks collect morning alms from Thai demonstrators outside Government House in Bangkok yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

Organizers of an around-the-clock protest outside the Thai prime minister's office vowed yesterday not to budge, inviting police to arrest them after the government urged protesters to leave.

Anti-government demonstrators have camped for nearly a week outside Government House, setting up tents and a large stage.

Speakers routinely deliver fiery speeches accusing Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of corruption and power abuse, saying they won't leave until he resigns.

"We're not going anywhere," protest leader Chamlong Srimuang told a cheering crowd of several thousand after sunrise yesterday. "Our protest is important because we are protecting the country from Thaksin."

Deputy Prime Minister Chitchai Wannasathi warned on Saturday that the government's patience was wearing thin.

"They have already expressed their opinion," Chitchai said.

But the demonstrators showed no sign of being intimidated.

"We will not run away. We will be here with you and wait for them to arrest us," another protest leader, Sondhi Limthongkul, said yesterday.

Television station iTV reported Chitchai saying yesterday that the government will use only "peaceful means" to remove the protesters. There has been no specific threat of arrests.

The sometimes boisterous protests have not been violent. The marathon rally's first fatality was reported on Saturday, when a 58-year-old man who had regularly attended passed out and died -- apparently from heat exhaustion -- said a protest spokeswoman, Anchalee Paireerat.

Thousands of protesters have sought medical attention after fainting and suffering headaches from the intense tropical heat.

Chitchai, in charge of security affairs, said the demonstrators will have to make way for an annual Red Cross fair planned in the area for the end of the month.

Protest organizers called the fair, scheduled for March 29, a pretext to disperse the rally.

Pro-democracy groups, students, labor unions and Buddhist activists accuse Thaksin of corruption and gutting Thailand's democratic institutions. After weeks of nightly protests at a Bangkok park, protesters marched Tuesday to Government House, where they have since held a sit-in.

Thaksin denies any wrongdoing and has vowed to hold onto his job, saying he will not bow to mob rule. Meanwhile, he is campaigning vigorously for April 2 snap elections that he called in an attempt to defuse the crisis.

More than half of Bangkok's voters may refuse to cast ballots in the April 2 snap election, and some 40 percent believe the polls should be postponed, according to a survey released yesterday.

Only 43 percent of the 1,552 people surveyed on Saturday said they would vote in the election, which Thaksin called three years early in hopes of ending street protests against him.

Some 17 percent said they would not cast ballots, and 40 percent said they were reluctant to vote even though voting is obligatory in Thailand, according to respected ABAC pollsters at Assumption University.

"The findings indicate that the political turmoil has caused more than half of the Thai people to become reluctant to vote," pollster Noppadon Kannika said.

"Also, political factors have caused a large number of people to say that the election should be postponed," he added.

About 40 percent of those surveyed said the election should be delayed to give political parties more time to resolve their differences before the vote.

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