Thai PM turns to parliament to diffuse protest siege

Other News Materials 31 August 2008 09:59 (UTC +04:00)

Thailand's Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej on Sunday reassured the nation that he would not impose emergency rule, ahead of a parliament session he hopes will defuse the siege of his Bangkok offices.

Samak is still looking for a peaceful way out of the crisis that began Tuesday when thousands of anti-government protesters rampaged through Bangkok's historic district and invaded his offices, demanding his immediate resignation, the dpa reported.

The movement has since spread outside the capital, closing two airports in southern tourist hubs, but the prime minister again said would not step down and accused protesters of trying to destroy the nation.

"We cannot let the situation in the country go on like this," Samak Sundaravej said on his weekly television address to the nation.

"It must be over, but I will not do anything that will create a bad atmosphere. The announcement of an emergency decree would create a bad atmosphere in the country and to the world."

The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) objects to Samak's plans to amend the constitution and his close ties with ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

"What they (the PAD) are trying to do now is overthrow the government," Samak said Sunday. "They seized government offices, airports. Is this democracy, or is this is the people's alliance to destroy democracy?"

PAD rallies in early 2006 helped lead to Thakin's overthrow later that year, and the PAD now claims it is acting out of allegiance to the deeply-revered monarch King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Despite the demonstrators regularly invoking the king, both in speeches and with royalist imagery, he has remained silent in the current standoff.

Samak late Saturday flew down to the king's residence in the beach resort town of Hua Hin to talk to him about the situation. Samak has not revealed details of the discussion, but said his stance had not changed.

"I told you before that I will not resign -- I will stay on to run this country," he said.

Brief clashes on Friday raised tensions in the coup-prone kingdom, but the atmosphere around the besieged government compound has since cooled. On Sunday morning numbers had dwindled, although ambulances remained on standby outside.

Officials said on Saturday that there were 15,000 people in the grounds of Government House, and they have barricaded themselves in with coils of barbed wire, bamboo poles and piles of tyres.

Samak has called an emergency session of parliament for 1:30 pm (0630 GMT) Sunday, and about 1,000 government supporters -- most wearing white -- rallied outside the parliament building to give him their backing.

Police Colonel Somchai Choeyklin, who was overseeing the parliament operation, said they had deployed about 1,000 officers to prevent a clash.

"We are worried that the PAD will come here so we are here to protect the people," he told AFP.

Protests also spread outside of Bangkok for the first time on Friday, with blockades shutting Phuket, Hat Yai and Krabi airports and a railway workers' strike halting a quarter of all services.

Hat Yai airport reopened on Saturday, but the tourists remain stranded on the holiday island of Phuket and nearby Krabi. A railway official, meanwhile, said services were still disrupted across the country.

Chamlong Srimuang, 73, a retired army general and one of five PAD leaders, said the alliance would wait and see what happened in parliament before planning its next move.