Protesters clash with airport security as Thai premier visits South

Anti-government protesters clashed with airport security in Surat Thani soon after Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat arrived in the southern city Saturday, the government-run Thai News Agency reported.

No serious injuries were reported and the protesters, who numbered about 100, fell short of closing the airport as they threatened to prevent Somchai from visiting his hometown near the town some 650 kilometres south of Bangkok, reported dpa.

Somchai, who became prime minister on September 18, said he wanted to return to his hometown to celebrate his appointment.

The protests were in support of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which is spearheading demonstrations in Bangkok against the government they claim is controlled by ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who is seeking political asylum in Britain.

Somchai is married to one of Thaksin's sisters.

Chamlong Srimuang, a core PAD leader and retired army general, said what PAD supporters do in the south is independently up to them and not controlled from Bangkok.

Thousands of PAD supporters seized the Government House compound on August 26 and have refused to leave until the government meets their demands.

The demands include not amending the 2007 constitution that they claim the government was trying to do in an effort to clear Thaksin of corruption charges and make way for his return.

An earlier demand was that former prime minister Samak Sundaravej resign, but he lost his post on September 9 when the Constitutional Court found him guilty of illegal moonlighting by hosting television cooking shows.

Sitting prime ministers are not allowed to earn income from a second job.

The PAD has refused to stop their protests because Somchai's cabinet is similar to Samak's, which they accuse of being controlled by Thaksin.

Two years ago, the PAD organized months of protests against Thaksin, who was eventually ousted in a bloodless military coup in September 2006.

The PAD and coup leaders charged Thaksin with massive corruption, dividing the nation, and undermining democracy and the monarchy.

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 last month after his wife was convicted on tax-evasion charges.

She skipped bail, and the couple is now seeking asylum in Britain. Thaksin currently has four warrants for his arrest in Thailand for not appearing to face various corruption charges.

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