Thai protesters have government on the run (Roundup)

November 24th, 2008 - 7:01 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangkok, Nov 24 (DPA) Thousands of Thai protesters Monday succeeded in suspending a parliament session and chasing the cabinet from its temporary offices but failed to spark a “final battle” needed to topple the government by Wednesday as pledged.About 20,000 followers of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) marched to Parliament Wednesday morning to prevent the legislators from meeting.

House Speaker Chai Chidchob called off the session rather than asking politicians to break through a volatile ring of demonstrators.

He called an emergency cabinet meeting at Bangkok’s domestic Don Mueang airport which has been serving as the government’s temporary headquarters for the past three months.

But the cabinet meeting was cut short when PAD protestors descended on the airport, forcing key ministers to flee.

Monday’s joint session was scheduled to approve agreements to be signed at the summit of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to be held in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, in mid-December.

“If Thailand does not sign it can do so after the other members, but because Thailand is this year’s chair it doesn’t look so good,” said Surin Pitsuwan, secretary-general of ASEAN.

It is possible that Thai parliament will meet later this week, if they can find a safe venue.

PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul called this week’s protest the “final battle,” vowing to bring the government down by Wednesday, after holding continuous street protests and demonstrations in Bangkok for the past six months.

The PAD has adopted increasingly aggressive tactics as its protest drags on.

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 Bangkok’s former international airport.

They laid 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.

It is widely believed that the PAD wishes to force a confrontation that will lead to violence and another military coup.

But the government’s tactic of avoiding the movement, and the military’s reluctance to stage a coup, may have undermined the PAD’s strategy, political observers said.

“The only solution they have is some sort of a coup, but the only time there is a coup in Thailand is when the army commander in chief feels threatened with dismissal,” said Kraisak Choonhavan, a member of the opposition Democrat Party, whose father, former primer Chatchai, was toppled by a coup in 1991.

“This government has been smart at keeping the military happy,” he added.

Thaksin, a former billionaire telecommunications tycoon turned politician, was prime minister from 2000-06. Through populist policies he won a mass following among some rural and urban poor, but his dictatorial style and self-serving deals eventually turned the Bangkok middle classes and political elite against him.

He was toppled by a coup on September 19, 2006.

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

The PAD has been galvanized 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.

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.

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