Thai parliament suspends meeting as protests mount (Second Lead)

November 24th, 2008 - 12:45 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangkok, Nov 24 (DPA) The Thai government was forced to suspend a joint session of the upper and lower house Monday after tens of thousands of anti-government protestors, some of them armed with sticks, surrounded the parliament in what has been dubbed a “final battle” to topple the administration by Wednesday.The house speaker Chai Chidchob called off the meeting rather than ask politicians to break through a volatile ring of demonstrators. The cabinet is to hold an emergency meeting at Bangkok’s domestic Don Mueang airport Monday.

Sondhi Limthongkul, a core leader of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) that has been leading an anti-government campaign in Bangkok since May, launched the march from Government House to parliament at 6 a.m. (23.00 GMT Sunday).

By 8 a.m. (01.00 GMT Monday), the protestors, numbering about 20,000, had surrounded parliament and cut off electricity to the building.

Sondhi, calling this protest the PAD’s “final battle”, has vowed to bring the government down by Wednesday, after holding endless street protests and demonstrations in Bangkok for the past six months.

PAD protestors also blocked the entrance to the metropolitan police headquarters after accusing the police of being behind attacks against the protestors in recent days.

Six men armed with a sawn-off shotgun and knives and dressed as PAD guards attempted to hijack a local bus Monday. They were arrested after soldiers and police shot out the bus tires.

The PAD, a loose coalition of groups fanatically opposed to the return to power of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, has occupied Government House - the seat of the executive body - since Aug 26, forcing the government to work out of a temporary office at Don Mueang Airport, the capital’s old international airport.

They are laying siege to parliament Monday to allegedly prevent the start of an amendment process to the constitution that might pave the way for a return to power by Thaksin, although no such legislation was on the agenda.

Thaksin, a former billionaire telecommunications tycoon turned politician, was prime minister from 2001 to 2006. Through populist policies he won a mass following among the rural and urban poor, but his dictatorial style and self-serving deals eventually turned the Bangkok middle classes and political elite against him.

Many of his former political allies, such as Sondhi and Chamlong Srimuang, are now heading the PAD.

The PAD has been galvanised to go for broke by increasing attacks on their followers camped out at Government House, which have claimed at least one life, and by Thaksin’s announcement last week that he was going to return to politics.

There were four bombs reported early Monday near the ASTV headquarters, the satellite TV station operated by Sondhi’s media group.

Thaksin is currently living in self-exile, a fugitive from the law after being sentenced to two years in jail on abuse-of-power charges.

But he continues to control the government through his money and connections, including Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, who is his brother-in-law.

The last time the PAD marched on Parliament on Oct 7, it ended in bloodshed. Police fired tear-gas canisters on the protestors, injuring many of them and sparking a melee in which two died and about 400 people were injured.

Police have vowed to avoid a similar use of violence Monday.

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