Protests Against Thai Leader Intensify

The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protest near Government House demands the government led by Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej step down. PAD says Samak is a proxy for former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup. (Photo: IRIN)

For a last-stage lung cancer patient like Arom Meechai, traveling all night from her hometown in Nakhon Si Thammarat Province to protest at Government House is what she will remember for the rest of her life.

"I don't mind the scorching hot weather or the heavy rain. Like other Thai citizens, I have rights by the constitution to protest, and I can't let this corrupt government rule the country any longer," she told IRIN.

A retired teacher, Arom is among over 10,000 supporters of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) who invaded and occupied the lawn of Government House on Aug. 26. It is the first time in recent years that a large crowd has managed to get onto the Government House grounds.

Self-described as "the final war," the protest is the latest effort by PAD to force the government, led by Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, from office. The group contends Samak was elected fraudulently and is a proxy for former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and has now fled to Britain to avoid corruption charges.

The PAD, which aligns itself with conservative factions of the monarchy and the military, has for three months led peaceful, boisterous demonstrations, but the protests have intensified and it now appears, to most observers, that the group is intent on provoking a violent crackdown by the police.

Such a scenario has the potential for mass injuries and could perhaps provoke the military to act, though military leaders say they are staying out of the fray.

Demonstrators Storm Ministries

On Aug. 26, thousands of protesters stormed Government House, the Finance and Transport ministries, the Public Relations Department and the Metropolitan Police Bureau. They also took over the National Broadcasting Services of Thailand (NBT), a state-controlled TV station, and blocked roads around the country.

"By taking over the agencies, we're sending a message to the government that it could no longer work, and that Mr. Samak should resign," PAD coordinator Suriyasai Katasila told IRIN.

Thousands of People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) supporters settle on the grounds of Government House after the group launched its "final war" demanding the Samak-led administration step down. (Photo: IRIN)

Samak, whose party won national elections in December 2007, however, has refused to step down and has said he will respond to the protesters peacefully but firmly.

The Thai Journalists Association and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the NBT seizure, describing it as a threat to press freedom and freedom of expression.

Arrest Warrants

PAD also suffered a big blow on Aug. 27 as the Criminal Court issued arrest warrants to its nine co-leaders on charges of treason, causing disturbances, and resisting law and order.

The Criminal Court made the decision following a request by the police. They provided footage of the NBT incursion showing the attackers, armed with clubs and iron rods, herding staff out of the building and destroying some property. Police rounded up the invaders about an hour later and 85 are now in detention.

Medical Teams on Standby

Meanwhile, health authorities informed IRIN they were preparing for further violent clashes.

Surachet Satitniramai, acting chief of the Institute of Medical Emergency Service, ensured that health staff and medical supplies would be sufficient in case of violence or an emergency.

Ambulances and medics have been stationed around the clock at Government House and nearby Makkhawan Rangsan bridge (the central site of the 90 days of demonstrations and just in front of United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific—UNESCAP—headquarters) to refer possible injured people to nearby hospitals.

Six protestors and police were sent to hospital early this morning, Aug. 27. They were slightly injured from wounds to heads, hands, and bodies during a pre-dawn clash, as the police tried to clear thousands of protesters from the grounds of Government House. They were treated and later sent home, Surachet said. ©IRIN

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]

From Integrated Regional Information Networks.