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Anti-Government Mobs Cripple Bangkok

Anti-Government Mobs Cripple Bangkok


by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- An angry Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej vowed on Tuesday (August 26) not to resign, despite being locked out of his office building when more than 30,000 rowdy protestors crippled Bangkok, hoping to topple his elected government.

"They want a spark, they need someone to hit someone, to shoot someone," Samak said, denouncing the unruly protestors and promising "soft and gentle" police tactics to peacefully resolve the crisis.

"I will not resign, we have no reason. We are on good terms with everyone, with the military, with the monarch, with everyone," Samak said in English in a televised news conference.

The organized, well-funded, right-wing protestors want to destabilize this U.S. ally in Southeast Asia so the military can be lured into launching a coup and appoint a government, instead of allowing Thais to elect their own leaders.

"We are now in [Samak's] Government House, and won't move until the government resigns," Sondhi Limthongkul told supporters on Tuesday (August 26).

Sondhi is a wealthy businessman who leads a diverse group deceptively known as the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which has opposed Thailand's last two elections.

Sondhi and his PAD supporters stormed and occupied Government House which includes the prime minister's office, forcing Samak to use a military base as his headquarters throughout the day.

Samak indicated he would use police reinforcements to surround the stately building, in an effort to end the siege peacefully.

PAD supporters inside Government House would then be allowed to leave, or face arrest.

"Without weapons, they [police] will surround the prime minister's office, and then [tell] those who are in there, 'You can come out, but no one can get in.' That is the only way you can do no harm to anyone," Samak said.

Earlier on Tuesday (August 26), a PAD mob ripped down a heavy metal gate in front of the government-run National Broadcasting Television building.

They rushed into its TV offices by smashing through glass doors, and overwhelmed police who apparently were ordered not to use violence against the stick-wielding masked men.

Sondhi's PAD unleashed similar urban protests in 2006, resulting in a bloodless military coup in September that year against then- prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, amid allegations of mass corruption.

The coup leaders insisted they would bring Thaksin to trial, and fix Thailand's sagging economy, but their junta meandered without solutions.

Thaksin was an elected prime minister, and lived mostly in self- exile during the junta's reign.

Two weeks ago, Thaksin became an international fugitive from justice when he skipped a Bangkok corruption trial and fled to England with his family.

PAD now hopes a fresh coup will oust Prime Minister Samak who, they claim, was hand-picked by Thaksin to manipulate the system so Thaksin can escape trial.

During his news conference, Samak said: "We didn't commit anything wrong, but the hatred still lingers" between rival supporters of the PAD and Thaksin.

Samak won a nationwide election in December 2007 after the coup leaders allowed polls under their new constitution, mistakenly believing Samak would lose.

The chastened military has since joined Samak in predicting there will be no more coups, and condemning PAD's protests.

PAD started its latest campaign of street protests in May by occasionally blocking bridges, main roads, and other venues.

Many leading Thai businessmen, academics, journalists and others supported PAD in 2006 -- and gleefully collaborated with the coup leaders -- amid widespread urban hatred against Thaksin, who draws most of his support from the countryside.

Asked if he favored another coup, Sondhi said on Monday (August 25): "If they (the military) claimed they launched a coup to improve politics, to help people who were protesting, and if they agreed with us that politics must be improved, and the monarchy must continue to exist, we would not be against them."

Enthusiasm for PAD recently waned, however, after PAD's leaders continued to reject Thailand's system of democratic elections.

When U.S. President George W. Bush arrived in Bangkok on August 6, before visiting the Beijing Olympics, he met Samak and said:

"I salute the Thai people on the restoration of democracy, which has proved that liberty and law reign here in the 'Land of the Free'."

Bush and Samak also marked 175 years of diplomatic relations between Thailand and America.

*************

Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist who has reported news from Asia since 1978. He is co-author of "Hello My Big Big Honey!", a non-fiction book of investigative journalism, and his web page is http://www.geocities.com/asia_correspondent

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