Thai police fire tear gas on protestors at Parliament

Thai riot police fired tear gas Tuesday at thousands of supporters of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) who have besieged Parliament to block the government's reading of a policy statement and taking steps to amend the constitution, dpa reported.

Scores of demonstrators were injured. some of them severely. One man had his lower leg shot off and another lost his right hand, apparently from tear gas canisters shot at close range.

Despite the crackdown, the PAD has refused to quit their protest. Parliament opened on time although it is unclear how long the session will last as the building was operating on a back-up generator.

Protestors had succeeded in cutting off electricity and water to the building.

"I call on our followers from all over the country to come to Bangkok to join us," said PAD leader Somsak Kohsaisuk. "The police are using tear gas, bombs and guns on us."

Thousands of PAD followers marched on Parliament Monday night to block the new move to amend the constitution, expected to be initiated this week. A new cabinet under recently appointed Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat is scheduled to announce its policies in Parliament in sessions Tuesday through Thursday.

Police launched a surprise attack on the demonstration at 6:20 am Tuesday. Another clash occurred between PAD followers and police on the back side of Parliament at 10:30 am, leaving about 10 protestors injured.

"I was just sitting there. I didn't think the police would fire tear gas at us. This is barbaric," said Pradap Thaephu, 53, a woman PAD supporter who sustained a head wound from a tear gas cannister.

Scores of PAD followers sustained injuries, primarily from tear gas canisters but others from what appeared to be rubber bullet wounds, said medics who had set up emergency treatment stations in Parliament.

The police have denied using rubber bullets, but eyewitnesses said they saw guns being fired. Rubber bullets were also found on the street in front of Parliament.

Despite the police crackdown, thousands of the PAD protestors, many of them in tears from the gas, refused to leave the road in front of the Parliament building. Some of the protestors had armed themselves with iron bars and wooden sticks.

The PAD is a loose coalition of groups opposed to the return to power of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a military coup on September 19, 2006.

The current government is led by the People Power Party (PPP), a group with close ties to Thaksin that is now led by Somchai, Thaksin's brother in law.

There are fears among the PAD that this government is seeking to reinstate the 1997 constitution, a liberal, pro-political parties charter that paved the way for Thaksin's rise to power in 2001 to 2006 and allowed his Thai Rak Thai party to dominate the political scene unhampered by independent bodies and checks and balances.

A previous attempt by former premier Samak Sundaravej to amend the 2007 constitution, which favours the bureaucracy and has strengthened the judiciary and other checks on corrupt politicians, brought the PAD to the streets in May.

Samak lost his post last month when the Constitution Court found him guilty of moonlighting on the premiership for hosting television cooking shows.

The PAD protests culminated in the seizure of Government House on August 26. They have occupied the seat of administration since.

The arrest of PAD leader Chamlong Srimuang on treason charges Sunday was deemed an invitation to escalate the PAD protest and the derailing of efforts to reach a compromise with the movement that is fighting for an era of "new politics" in Thailand.

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