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Thailand protesters demand Prime Minister Abhisit resign

Supporters of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra also seek the ouster of a top advisor to the king.

April 09, 2009|Charles McDermid and Jakkapun Kaewsangthong

BANGKOK, THAILAND — A sea of red-clad anti-government protesters flooded into central Bangkok on Wednesday to demand the resignations of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and a key advisor to King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

City officials estimated that 100,000 supporters of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra filled the capital's government district. The protesters from the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship are demanding the resignation of Vejjajiva and his 4-month-old administration because they say he gained power undemocratically.

In the afternoon, hundreds of demonstrators broke through police barricades and surrounded the home of Privy Council President Gen. Prem Tinsulanonda, who they say was behind the 2006 military coup that ousted Thaksin. Prem, a close advisor to the highly respected king, has denied any involvement in the coup.

Wednesday's rally came after a two-week sit-in outside Abhisit's office by thousands of protesters.

On Tuesday, the so-called red shirts attacked Abhisit's motorcade in the resort town of Pattaya, pelting his vehicle with bottles, smashing the rear window and punching his driver and guards. The brazen attack raised security concerns about a summit of the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, scheduled to commence in Pattaya on Friday.

Government officials said Wednesday that the summit would proceed as planned. Abhisit has refused to step down or employ violence to quell the protests.

"If it becomes a riot, the government will have to do something," Abhisit told reporters in Bangkok. "I can assure you there will be no violence starting from the government's side."

Last year, Thaksin fled Thailand before a court convicted him of abuse of power and he was sentenced to a two-year prison term. Using a video linkup Wednesday, he called on more supporters to join the protesters in pursuit of "a true democracy."

Thaksin's supporters point to the former telecommunications magnate's alleged economic prowess as the way out of the global financial crisis.

"He is smart guy. When he was in his power, poor people could make a lot of money. Today when they look at their wallet, it is empty. We want him and his policies back," 45-year-old restaurant owner Nattapon Karaked said.

According to government officials, 10,000 police officers and military troops have been deployed in central Bangkok. Pattaya is also on high alert.

Bus routes were diverted from Bangkok protest areas and visitors have been warned to avoid those sites.

Chanisa Rangtes, a 27-year-old receptionist, said the gathering of protesters in central Bangkok caused worse problems than the usual traffic jams and noise pollution.

"This isn't going to do any good for our society. People will get hurt and it will ruin our reputation, which is already getting bad. In the end we don't get anything," she said. "I'm not sure if it's even really about democracy."


McDermid and Kaewsangthong are special correspondents.

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