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Samak avoids using force


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August 29, 2008

Thailand political standoff:
Samak avoids using force, hopes to wear down protesters

As Thai anti-government protesters occupying the grounds of the Government House continued their sit-in for the third day on Thursday, Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej is employing psychological tactics to wear down protesters, local dailies reported Friday.

Early Friday, supporters of the conservative People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) forced several hundred policemen off the compound and vowed to continue their protest in their bid to oust the leader, reported the Associated Press.

In what appeared to be a related development, there were work stoppages by Thai railway workers on several lines Thursday after an unknown number of employees took immediate two-day sick leaves.

Prime Minister Samak, on Wednesday, was asked by the members of his People Power Party (PPP), the core party in the coalition government, not to use force but employ psychological tactics to wear down the protesters and explore all legal possibilities as well, local daily The Nation quoted the PPP sources as saying.

Police issued arrest warrants Wednesday for nine of the group's leaders on charges of insurrection, conspiracy, illegal assembly and refusing orders to disperse. Insurrection, the legal equivalent of treason, carries a maximum penalty of death or life imprisonment.

Another court issued an order late Wednesday demanding that the protesters leave the government compound immediately and stop blocking streets. On Thursday, a court rejected the alliance's appeal of the order to vacate Government House, which was seized Tuesday.

One of the top alliance leaders, Chamlong Srimuang, told reporters Thursday night that protesters would continue to rally at the compound despite the court order.

Chamlong, one of the nine leaders sought by police, insisted the protesters were doing nothing wrong.

"We are staging a protest because the government has made too many mistakes and has no legitimacy to run the country," he said. "From now on, it will be stickier. Our political rallying will get stronger because more of our supporters from upcountry will come to help us. We will not back down."

The alliance's best known leaders are Chamlong, an influential former politician and army officer, and Sondhi Limthongkul, a media mogul.

The alliance accuses Samak's government of serving as a proxy for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and faces several pending corruption cases. Thaksin is in self-imposed exile in Britain.

After Thaksin was deposed in the bloodless coup, his party was dissolved and he was banned from public office until 2012.

But Samak led Thaksin's political allies to a December 2007 election victory, and their assumption of power triggered fears that Thaksin would make a political comeback on the strength of his continued popularity in Thailand's rural majority.

The military has said it is not planning a coup. Thailand has had 17 constitutions since 1932 - a reflection of the political instability and military coups that followed the drafting of the first charter that created a constitutional monarchy. The last coup was in 2006, when Thaksin was ousted.

Meanwhile, Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan on Thursday expressed concern that Thailand's political turmoil would affect Thailand's image as the chairman of the regional group, reported TNA, a Thai government news agency.

Surin, who is attending the 40th Asean Economic Ministers' Meeting being held in Singapore, said that Asean members are worried about what happened.

As Asean chairman, he suggested, Thailand should spend its remaining term of one year and a half showing efficient leadership to make its image distinguished in the international venue.

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