Friday, 20 June 2008

Thai protestors storm Government House (1st Lead)

Thousands of People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) members protest outside Foreign Ministry in Bangkok, Thailand Wednesday, June 18, 2008. The protestors accused the Thai government of yielding a disputed border region with an ancient temple to Cambodia, the latest trouble for the embattled Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej who has been facing daily protests calling for his resignation.(AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

M & G, Asia-Pacific News
Jun 20, 2008

Bangkok - Thousands of anti-government protestors surrounded the Thai cabinet's headquarters Friday, demanding the immediate resignation of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and his ministers.

The demonstrators of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which led similar mass protests against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006, broke through police blockades to force their way to Government House which they had surrounded by Friday afternoon.

'PAD protestors have no weapons, so if there is any shooting, it is not by us,' PAD leader Chamlong Srimuang said, urging the demonstrators not to attack police while breaking through their barricades.

The protesters, estimated at 5,000 strong, shouted, 'Put Thaksin in prison,' as they took their places outside Government House, which was closed Friday.

The PAD has vowed to camp outside Thailand's seat of government until Samak and his cabinet resign, accusing them of mishandling the economy and diplomacy, and of acting as 'nominees' for Thaksin and his cronies, who were barred from power by a Constitutional Tribunal ruling last year.

A similar siege on Government House in 2006 when Thaksin was prime minister ended with tanks rolling on the streets of Bangkok. The military staged a coup against Thaksin on September 19, 2006, charging him with corruption, undermining the monarchy and dividing the nation.

After 15 months under a military-appointed government, on December 23, 2007, Thailand held a general election that was won by the People Power Party (PPP), that promised a return to Thaksin's populist policies. PPP leader Samak, a right-wing politician, was chosen to head the party because of his close ties with Thaksin.

'We want Samak and his cabinet to get out,' said Janikha Korkhalong, 45, one of the protestors. 'Just what this government has done on the Phra Viharn issue is enough reason for them to go.'
The Thai government this week backed a Cambodian proposal to list the Preah Vihear Hindu temple, the subject of a bitter ownership dispute more than 40 years ago, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site next month.

The decision has irked many in Thailand who still believe the ancient Khmer border temple - called Phra Viharn by Thais - belongs to their country although the International Court of Justice in The Hague passed it to Cambodia in 1962.

There is a widespread belief that the cabinet approved the Cambodian proposal as part of a Thaksin business deal. Thaksin on Wednesday announced plans to invest in a hotel-casino project on Cambodia's Koh Kong island.

The PAD began its anti-government protests May 25 after the cabinet launched a motion to amend the 2007 constitution, leading to speculation that its intent was to undermine several corruption cases against Thaksin and pave the way for his return to power.

Thaksin, a billionaire telecommunications tycoon, was prime minister from 2001 to 2006 before he was toppled in a bloodless coup.

Thaksin, whose Thai Rak Thai party won widespread backing from the rural poor through a host of populist policies, lost the trust of Bangkok's middle class and political elite in early 2006 and soon found himself the target of a military coup.

Outrage against Thaksin exploded in January 23, 2006, when his family sold its 49-per-cent equity in the Thaksin-founded Shin Corp conglomerate to the Singapore government's Temasek Holding for a tax-free 2 billion dollars.

That sale gave the PAD the ammunition it needed to mount an anti-Thaksin campaign that finally led to the military coup. Now the PAD is back on the streets for similar reasons, accusing the Samak-led government of being a proxy cabinet for Thaksin.

The PAD movement, aimed primarily at uprooting Thaksin's lingering influence in Thai politics, has gained momentum with Thailand's deteriorating economy.

Inflation peaked at 7.6 per cent in May, pushed up by rising fuel and food prices, which have sparked a series of protests and demands for subsidies.


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