Thai protest leader warns of looming "confrontation" available (2nd Roundup)
Sep 1, 2008, 14:10 GMT
Bangkok - Thailand's beseiged government, whose office compound has been occupied by protestors for the past week, is preparing for a 'confrontation,' busing in thugs to clear out Government House, a protest leader said Monday.
'They will start coming down from the provinces tomorrow onwards,' said Sonthi Limthongkul, one of five leaders of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) that seized Government House on August 26 and has occupied the seat of the administration since.
Sonthi claimed that government members of parliament were preparing to bring in thousands of members of the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship, a pro-government mob, to rid Government House of its unwelcome guests.
'We will just hold the fort in a very peaceful way,' said Sonthi, a media entrepreneur who has been at the heart of the PAD movement since it began in early 2006 as a spearhead to topple the previous administration of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thaksin was ousted by a military coup on September 19, 2006, and now the PAD wants to force his protege, or 'nominee,' current Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, to resign.
The PAD, a loose coalition of conservative groups opposed to the current government and all corrupt elected politicians, has been staging peaceful anti-government demonstrations on Rajdamnoen Avenue in the old section of Bangkok since May 25.
Although it has thus far failed to force Samak's resignation, Sonthi claimed the movement has succeeded in informing people about the corrupt nature of Thai politics and empowering them, albeit outside the electoral system.
'The most important thing is we've made the people understand that Thailand is their country, and doesn't just belong to the politicians,' said Sonthi.
But the PAD's detractors say the movement is undermining Thailand's electoral democracy, imperfect though it may be.
Last Tuesday, in what the PAD dubbed 'D-Day,' the movement rallied more than 10,000 supporters who stormed Government House and seized the cabinet's working headquarters.
Efforts by police to forcibly oust the demonstrators from Government House on Friday failed. On Sunday, Samak transferred the Bangkok Metropolitan Police chief who had ordered a soft response to the protestors.
Friday's show of force drew immediate criticism from a broad swathe of Thai society, and prompted PAD supporters to raid and shut down three airports in southern Thailand. The three airports at Hat Yai, Krabi and Phuket all reopened Sunday.
The labour union at the state-run State Railways of Thailand (SRT) also went on strike as of Friday. As of Monday, the SRT was operating only 129 of its 244 trains.
The SRT board resigned en masse Monday, after the state enterprise reported a 60-million-baht (1.9-million-dollars) loss due to the partial strike.
Meanwhile, on Monday, the labour unions of 43 state enterprise labour unions threatened to stop work Wednesday, to pressure Samak to resign.
Union leaders Sawit Kaewwan and Sirichai Mai-ngam told a press conference that more than 200,000 members of the 43 state enterprise labour unions nationwide had jointly agreed to stop work which involves public utilities such as tap water, electricity supplies and transportation systems starting from 9 am Wednesday to 'end the political problems' created by the government of Mr Samak.'
Samak is faced with a difficult dilemma: If he cracks down on the PAD, there will be a political backlash; but if he allows them to continue occupying his offices, he looks weak.
Political analysts said the Thai military is unlikely to assist Samak in getting rid of the PAD, which claims to be a staunchly monarchist movement devoted to cleaning up Thai politics.
The PAD played a key role in paving the way for the military's coup against former premier Thaksin, a billionaire populist politician who dominated Thai politics from 2001 to 2006.
The PAD claims Samak is a stand-in for Thaksin, who is now living in self-exile in London.