Thu, Feb 26, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Thai protests enter second day

MESSAGE TO THE WORLD The rally comes just days before an ASEAN summit and aims to show that the government has no mandate to rule, a protest leader said


Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s entered his office unhindered yesterday, easing fears of a confrontation with thousands of anti-government protesters who surrounded the compound demanding that parliament be dissolved and new elections held.

In the second day of protests, about 3,000 demonstrators allied with exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra sat in the midday heat outside Government House, listening to speakers on a makeshift stage.

Some shouted and threw plastic bottles at riot police and soldiers who were guarding the area, but the gathering remained largely peaceful.

The latest rally — which comes a few days before Thailand is to host the annual summit of the 10-member ASEAN — was aimed at showing Thailand’s Southeast Asian neighbors that Abhisit’s two-month old government had no right to rule, protest leader Jakrapob Penkair said.

But he said they had no plans to disrupt the summit itself.

Abhisit’s motorcade entered the Government House compound through a side gate without hindrance, witnesses said.

Protesters also did not attempt to obstruct ASEAN defense ministers who arrived later ahead of the regional summit.

“We simply want regional leaders to know that the Thai public do not accept this government,” Jakrapob said on stage as the motorcade arrived. “They have the support of the military and the elite but they don’t have the support of the majority of the people.”

On Tuesday, 20,000 protesters surrounded the prime minister’s office as Abhisit held his weekly Cabinet meeting in the beach resort town of Hua Hin, 150km southwest of Bangkok instead of its usual venue at Government House.

Political turmoil has roiled Thailand for several months.

Demonstrators who opposed Thaksin’s allies in the previous government occupied Government House for three months last year and shuttered Bangkok’s two airports for eight days in November and December.

The protest ended only when a court ruled to oust Thaksin’s allies for electoral fraud and Abhisit — whose party came in second in a December 2007 general election — was voted into office by parliament.

On Wednesday, the protesters marched to the Foreign Ministry to call for the resignation of Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, who was a vocal supporter of the anti-Thaksin demonstrators.

The latest protests have been organized by the Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship — commonly known as the “red shirts” because of their attire, which contrasts with the yellow shirts worn by their rivals, the People’s Alliance for Democracy.

Thaksin, a former telecommunications tycoon, remains popular among the rural majority for introducing social welfare plans. He now lives in self-imposed exile after being ousted in a 2006 military coup for alleged corruption and abuse of power.

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