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Pressure piled on PM as protests escalate

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Thailand political standoff:
Pressure piled on PM as protests escalate
Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej was under growing pressure on Saturday as protesters determined to
topple him occupied his official compound amid reports the army chief had suggested he consider stepping down, Reuters reported.

The protesters led by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) continued their occupation of the compound of Government House for the fifth day on Saturday.

There apparently was an informal truce between the protesters and the police early Saturday as a royal ceremony to honour the revered king and queen is scheduled to take place near the protest site in the afternoon to be presided by Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn.


Friday saw the worst unrest in the latest round of protests. Just before noon on Friday, police clashed with the protesters at their campsite near the Government House, as they delivered a court eviction order.

Local TV broadcasts showed police beating and chasing off PAD supporters who fought back and withdrew, some carrying injured protesters away.

Claiming police brutality, alliance members laid siege to city police headquarters later on Friday, demanding the surrender of the police ‘culprits’. They were later dispersed as police threw tear gas canisters.

On Friday, Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, who insisted the government would not employ force, but rather "soft and gentle" methods, met military officials, after which he told reporters he might have to declare state of emergency.

However, the idea was reportedly rejected by Thai army chief Anupong Paochinda. Anupong spoke privately to Samak after that meeting and "suggested the prime minister consider stepping down or dissolving the House of Representatives as possible options", reported local daily the Bangkok Post Saturday, adding that the report could not be confirmed.

Friday also saw thousands of protesters blockading passengers from entering three airports in southern Thailand, including the popular tourist resort Phuket, forcing their closures.

Hundreds of railway workers staged a work stoppage by taking emergency sick leave, forcing the cancellation of 76 passenger trains and 30 cargo trains throughout the country, authorities said. And union leaders - including those from flagship airline Thai Airways - have called for workers to join in the stoppage.

There were reports on Saturday of Samak being given an audience late Friday with King Bhumibol Adulaydej where he briefed the monarch on the anti-government protests spreading around the country.

Meanwhile, the ruling six-party coalition agreed Friday to hold an urgent weekend debate to discuss the ongoing crisis caused by thousands of anti-government protesters. The debate is to be held on Sunday.

The escalating protests also forced Prime Minister Samak to cancel a three-day trip to Japan from next Tuesday. Samak was originally scheduled to hold talks with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda on Wednesday as well as to have an audience with Emperor Akihito during his visit, reported Japanese news agency Kyodo.

The protests are led by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), a motley group of businessmen, academics and activists who accuse Samak of being an illegitimate proxy of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, now in exile in London. Samak denies the accusation. PAD has staged marathon street protests Since May 25.

As protests spread across Thailand, shutting airports in the southern tourist hotspots, Prime Minister Samak insisted he was not going to give in to the protesters' demands.

"I will not quit. At this moment, I will not declare emergency rule, I will wait and see tomorrow," he told reporters.

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