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Strikes yet to bite as deadlock continues

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Thailand under state of emergency:
Strikes yet to bite as deadlock continues

A strike by Thailand’s anti-government labor unions did not materialize as planned Wednesday, but protesters demanding the prime minister's resignation refused to lift a weeklong siege of his office, ignoring an emergency decree while Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej refused to step down, reported the Associated Press.

The Federation of State Enterprises comprising 43 unions had planned to lead more than 200,000 workers in a strikes to crimp the supplies of power and water to government offices, as well as disrupt telecommunications and rail, road and air transport.

But few services were disrupted by the protesters who want to oust Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej from office, accusing him of corruption, violating the Constitution and making questionable appointments to senior government positions.

The anti-Samak campaign is led by the People's Alliance for Democracy, which comprises labor union leaders, urban elite and civil society activists among others.

"The PAD will not hold talks with the government or anyone," said Somsak Kosaisuk, one of the five core leaders of the group. "The PAD will talk only after Samak has resigned," he said.

The PAD was formed in 2006 to demand the resignation of then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, eventually paving the way for a bloodless coup that ousted him. Thaksin, a telecommunications tycoon, recently fled to Britain to escape corruption charges. The protesters say Samak is Thaksin's stooge and is running the government for him by proxy.

However, there is no indication Samak will step down.

In an interview a CNN reporter on Tues day, Samak said the government's plan to solve ongoing political tensions and unrest is to have security forces surround the Government House, occupied by PAD.

Samak shot back at his interviewer when asked if ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra is still pulling the strings behind his administration. "Don't you use these words to me again," he said. "This is an insult to me."

He imposed emergency rule limited to the capital Bangkok on Tuesday. The move came after a week of political tensions exploded into rioting and street fighting early Tuesday between Samak's supporters and opponents that left one person dead and dozens injured.

Emergency rule gives the military the right to restore order, allows authorities to suspend civil liberties, bans public gatherings of more than five people and bars the media from reporting news that "causes panic."

Still, the army chief, Gen. Anupong Paochinda, made it clear that if troops are ordered into Bangkok's streets, they will be armed only with riot shields and batons, and will not use force.

Anupong's assurance has turned the emergency decree into "toilet paper," AP quoted  Sirinan Yodkongkha, a 45-year-old business woman, as saying.

"The state of emergency has ended up drawing a bigger crowd rather than scaring protesters away," said Sirinan, one of several thousand people camped out at the Government House despite a morning downpour.

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