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Samak ignores calls to resign


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August 27, 2008

Thai anti-government protests continue
Samak ignores calls to resign, promises ‘soft and gentle’ approach’

Several thousand Thai protesters began a second day occupying the prime minister's compound in Bangkok on Wednesday after 15 people were injured in early morning clashes with riot police.

Early on Wednesday, hundreds of riot police clashed briefly with the protesters when the police were changing shifts inside Government House at 3 a.m. local time.

Police with batons and shields were pushing and clubbing some protesters, television footage showed. Injured protesters had cuts on their arms or heads, but no major injuries were reported, protest leader Suriyasai Katasila told media.

About 1,000 police remain in the compound, some in groups in the middle of the crowd, others scattered among the buildings but not intervening. The military has vowed not to intervene in the latest protests.

"Police will seek the warrants (for our arrest) today. Don't panic - if we have been arrested, others will carry on," one protest leader, Chamlong Srimuang, told the crowd early Wednesday.

Thailand's two English-language newspapers, known for their criticism of the government and anti-Thaksin stance, nevertheless criticised the PAD's movement as "provocative".

"Dark days descending once again," wrote The Nation, saying: "The PAD's highly provocative action yesterday was completely uncalled for."

The Bangkok Post described Samak's calm reaction to the crisis as "commendable", while calling the PAD's actions "unjustified, unnecessary, provocative and illegal."

Samak, who was working Wednesday from army's headquarters, said Tuesday his approach would be "soft and gentle," and said police would simply surround the seat of government until everyone had left.

PAD protests in early 2006 helped lead to the putsch that unseated Thaksin, and the entry to government of his ally Samak infuriated the old power elites in the military and palace, who resented Thaksin's hold on rural voters.

Thousands of protesters led by People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) stormed the Government House compound, a state TV station and several ministries on Tuesday in a coordinated bid to unseat the elected seven-month-old coalition government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej.

The protesters called for more people to join them on Wednesday, using their own radio station to broadcast their appeal.

Samak has urged the PAD protesters to pack up and go home, accusing them of breaking the law after three months of hitherto peaceful demonstrations in central Bangkok.

But PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul, speaking to several thousand supporters on the Government House lawn on Tuesday, vowed to stay until the government fell.

The PAD accuse Samak of being an illegitimate proxy of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra and seeking to turn Thailand into a republic, which Samak denies.

Samak, speaking to reporters after his weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday, made no mention of any need to impose emergency rule, but national police spokesman Surapol Thuanthong said police would seek court approval on Wednesday to arrest the PAD leaders after they ignored an order to leave by 6 p.m.

The latest disruption to the government at a time of stuttering growth and decade-high inflation was the last thing the economy needed, analysts said.

The stock market fell as much as 2.5 percent on Tuesday amid fears of violence. It has shed nearly 23 percent since the PAD, a group of monarchist businessmen and academics, launched its campaign to unseat the government on May 25.

Meanwhile, Thai journalists denounced the Tuesday morning raid on the state-owned television station National Broadcasting Services of Television (NBT) by a group of armed protesters who claimed to be linked to the PAD as an unacceptable act, posing a threat to media freedom.
The group of protesters armed with knives, guns and golf clubs stormed the NBT early in the morning, citing the station was a government mouthpiece.  

The Confederation of Thai Journalists, Thai Journalists Association and Thai Broadcast Journalists Association issued a joint statement, saying such an act was “the gravest and blatant violations of media freedom to date.”

The statement said the protestors should have sought to use legal means and the arbitration of constitution rather than resorting to force and cutting off the station’s broadcasting signal. The three organisations also called on all media agencies to adhere to integrity and accuracy, while refraining from any action which might escalate the conflicts.

Thai police are gathering evidence on members and supporters of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) who have illegally seized several government buildings, including Thailand's Government House, on Tuesday while a court is expected to issue arrest warrant for more than five PAD leaders on Wednesday, the Bangkok chief of police said late Tuesday.

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