Thai court issues arrest warrants for eight protest leaders

Thailand's criminal court issued arrest warrants Wednesday for eight leaders of an anti-government protest group that took over several state buildings to try to force the administration to resign, reported dpa.

Tens of thousands of People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) supporters seized several government buildings early Tuesday and held them most of the day until they converged near the prime minister's compound in the evening.

More than 10,000 people remained around Government House Wednesday and vowed to stay until Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and his cabinet resign.

Protest leader Chamlong Srimuang, a retired army general, said he and his colleagues would not resist arrest if police have warrants but added that they would not turn themselves in.

Chamlong also said PAD leaders would not allow supporters to block police from arresting them although they would continue to demonstrate. He said the protestors want to block the government from amending the 2007 constitution and to pressure the administration to resign.

The court issued warrants for the eight leaders for "attempted rebellion" and lesser charges.

The government was taking a cautious approach to the street protests Wednesday.

"This is not a deadline," Interior Minister and General Kowit Wattana said. "I am asking the PAD and demonstrators to withdraw from Government House peacefully."

Samak said Tuesday that his government would not be forced from power because it had been legally elected.

"I will stay to protect the country," he said at a press conference. "I will not leave to go anywhere."

On Tuesday, PAD supporters gathered at strategic parts of Bangkok, including breaking into the compound surrounding Government House to prevent the holding of the weekly cabinet meeting, but they said they would not enter the building and had not done so Wednesday.

The PAD organized months of protests against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was eventually ousted in a bloodless military coup in September 2006.

They charged him with massive corruption, dividing the nation, and undermining democracy and the monarchy.

The PAD is now trying to bring down the government of Samak, a political ally of Thaksin who openly campaigned as a proxy for him.

The PAD has been calling for Samak's resignation since May after the cabinet approved a motion to amend the 2007 constitution.

Protest leaders charged the amendments are aimed at clearing Thaksin of corruption charges and paving the way for his return to power.

Thaksin, a former policeman turned billionaire businessman, was prime minister from 2001 to 2006, winning a huge following among Thailand's rural poor.

But the populist politician drew the opposition of the political elite when his growing power led to perceived abuses for personal gain.

After spending 17 months in exile in the post-coup period, Thaksin returned to Thailand in February but fled again this month after his wife was convicted of tax evasion charges. She skipped bail, and the couple is now seeking asylum in Britain.

The protests continued to be about Thaksin Tuesday with one of the biggest banners reading: "Thaksin is not a political refugee but a criminal evading an arrest warrant."

But with Thaksin now seeking asylum overseas, the PAD has lost one of its biggest drawing points, and some analysts said they think the protests' days are numbered.

"The PAD protests have cost a lot of resources and energy over the past three months, and now they are running out of both," political scientist Thitinan Pongsudhirak said.

"They need to feed the mob with a new objective; otherwise, people get bored," said Thitinan, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.

"I think the leaders will be arrested, and this will be a way for the PAD to be disbanded without disgrace," he said.

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