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December 30, 2008

Thailand Politics:
Protesters blockade parliament for second day

Anti-government protesters blockaded Thailand's parliament for a second day on Tuesday hours before Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was due to give a policy speech aimed at reviving an economy on the brink of recession, reported Reuters.

A government minister said police were negotiating to open a corridor through the crowd to allow pro-government members of parliament to enter the compound for the speech scheduled for 9:30am local time.

Riot police inside the compound since the protest began on Monday tried to push open one of the main gates, but they were forced back by the protesters, a Reuters reporter said.

"The policy of this government is not to use force," Satit Wongnongtaey, a minister in charge of media relations, told a Thai television station.

The red-shirted supporters of former leader Thaksin Shinawatra spent the night outside the gates of parliament, vowing to stay until Abhisit calls fresh elections.

Abhisit, who was elected in a parliamentary vote two weeks ago after a court forced out the previous pro-Thaksin government, must deliver his maiden speech in parliament before his ministers can start work on reviving the economy.

Export figures due later on Tuesday are expected to show plunging demand for the country's goods due to the weak global economy. Thailand's economy is likely to contract this quarter and may slide into recession in 2009, economists say.

Thailand has seen four prime ministers this year and months of street protests, including a week-long blockade of Bangkok's main airports, which have scared away tourists and shaken foreign investor confidence.

The political impasse, which began three years ago when yellow-shirted protests led by Bangkok's royalist and business elite triggered Thaksin's removal in a 2006 coup, shows no sign of being resolved anytime soon.

Supporters of the exiled Thaksin accuse Abhisit of "stealing" power with the aid of the military they say coerced smaller parties to join his coalition two weeks ago, a charge he denies.

A similar siege by the anti-Thaksin People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) in October to prevent then Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat from giving his maiden address triggered clashes with police that killed two people and injured hundreds more.

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