Monday, November 24, 2008

Bangkok Protests

Major protests in Bangkok.

Parliament paralysed

Protests on Monday forced parliament to cancel its planned joint session, and left anarchy on the streets from Government House all the way to the old Don Mueang airport.

The People's Alliance for Democracy declared victory, but failed to gain its objective. Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat resolved to stay in office, and the military showed no sign it intended to seize power.

More than 5,000 protesters led by PAD leaders Sondhi Limthongkul, Piphob Thongchi and Somkiat Pongpaiboon were still gathered in front of the parliament building on Monday evening. Traffic lanes were closed around the venue, as more protesters were expected to join the mass rally.

The protesters also cut off electricity to the parliament building and the Chart Thai party headquarters.

Suriyasai Katasila, PAD coordinator, said the siege would continue until parliament goes into recess or government MPs abandon their attempt to amend the constitution.

"May victory be with the people," PAD leader Somkiat Pongpaiboon chanted.

But from the Apec summit in Peru, Mr Somchai said he no intention of resigning, because the government emerged from democratic elections.

If the government has to be forced out, it should be done by the parliamentary election or the general public in a ballot, he said.

He said the global economic crisis was more important than the protests.

"The situation in Thailand at the moment is small - only a single location in Bangkok, and it has not significantly destroyed the country's economic foundation," claimed the prime minister.

"We have to talk and try for reconciliation," he told a reporter from the Reuters news agency.

An estimated 18,000 flag-waving demonstrators split up throughout the capital. They hijacked buses, fanned out in running protests through the central part of the city, and even wound up outside the new government offices at Don Mueang.

Six armed men claiming to be PAD security guards hijacked a public bus at gunpoint in front of the army’s Survey Department in the Nang Lerng area not far from Government House.

Police confronted the hijackers, and shot out the tyres of the bus. When it ground to a halt, the six men were arrested and police seized knives, a shotgun and ammunition.

House speaker Chai Chidchob called for calm and announced the postponement of a joint parliamentary session which was supposed to consider legislation needed for the Asean summit to be held in Chiang Mai beginning in December.

"I ask for all sides to stop the movement now. If you love the king, please return home," he said on parliament radio.

He was forced to call off the scheduled parliament sitting because elected MPs and senators could not enter the building. Police did not confront the protesters as they did last Oct 7, when a tear-gas assault killed one person.

The yellow-clad PAD protesters marched through the Ratanakosin district, waving Thai flags and holding aloft portraits of His Majesty the King.

Monks joined the protest, which supposedly was aimed at toppling the government. Black-clad volunteer PAD security guards wielding homemade batons protected the crowd.

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