Thai protesters surround govt HQ, strike falls flat

Thai protesters surrounded the government's temporary headquarters on Tuesday in an increasingly desperate bid to unseat the elected administration as a threatened nationwide strike fell flat, reported Reuters.

The marchers, who forced parliament to delay a legislative session on Monday, converged on Bangkok's old Don Muang airport, where ministers have been running the country since the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) invaded Government House in August.

"It is time to make a clear-cut choice between good and evil, between those who are loyal and traitors," PAD leader Somsak Kosaisuk told 10,000 yellow-shirted supporters waving hand clappers and shouting anti-government slogans.

Domestic flights were operating as usual from Don Muang, which has been replaced by Suvarnabhumi international airport as the gateway to Thailand for some 13 million tourists a year.

There was no major disruption to air, road or rail services despite a strike called by state sector unions demanding that the government quit.

One union chief said protesters might picket Suvarnabhumi airport early on Wednesday, when Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat is expected to return from an Asia-Pacific summit in Peru.

Any serious labor disruption would deepen the economic impact of the long-running political crisis, which has stymied government decision-making and hurt the export-driven economy's ability to cope with a global crisis.

The government forecast this week that the economy would grow just 4.5 percent this year, its slowest rate in seven years.

However, Thai shares and the baht shrugged off the protests, with the main stock index up 1.6 percent as Asian bourses rose after the U.S. bailout of Citigroup.

The PAD, which billed this week as the "final battle" in its six-month street campaign, forced the government to postpone to next month a joint parliamentary session to approve international agreements for a regional summit starting in mid-December.

But these latest protests are unlikely to deliver a knock-out blow to the People Power Party (PPP) government.

Opinion polls show waning public support for the unelected coalition of royalist businessmen, academics and activists who accuse Somchai of being a puppet of his brother-in-law, Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted as prime minister by the military in 2006.

Some analysts say PAD's powerful moral and financial backers in the Bangkok establishment are getting cold feet about the damage the political strike is inflicting on the economy.

"The people who've been backing PAD in the background have got frightened that it's getting out of control. It's a threat to public order and even the structure of the state itself," historian and political analyst Chris Baker said.

Despite his ties to Thaksin, Somchai's bland, inoffensive personality has proved a hard target for the PAD.

Police are eager to avoid a repeat of October 7, when two protesters were killed and hundreds injured in street battles, the worst violence in Bangkok since the army opened fire on democracy protesters in 1992.

Riot police are carrying only shields and melting away when faced with PAD youths armed with iron bars, golf clubs and stakes.

Bloodshed could trigger another coup, two years after the army removed Thaksin, but army chief Anupong Paochinda reiterated on Tuesday that a putsch would do nothing to resolve fundamental political rifts.

The PAD enjoys the backing of Bangkok's urban middle classes and elite, including Queen Sirikit. Thaksin and the government claim their support from the rural voters who returned the PPP in a December election.

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