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Thai prime minister faces growing pressure

Thai prime minister faces growing pressure

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej faced mounting pressure to step down Saturday as anti-government protesters occupied his headquarters for a fifth day and disrupted rail and air service in some of the country's most popular tourist destinations.
Samak made an unannounced trip to the southern town of Hua Hin to meet with Thailand's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the Nation newspaper reported. Bhumibol is a constitutional monarch with no formal political role but has repeatedly brought calm in times of turbulence during his 60 years on the throne.
A Saturday morning downpour failed to disperse thousands of protesters camped out at the prime minister's official compound, known as Government House, in Bangkok where leaders called for 1 million people to join their ranks to demand an end to Samak's seven-month tenure.
"The protest has already developed into a people's revolution," protest leader Sondhi Limthongkul told The Associated Press. "I do believe that Samak is going to resign."
International airports in the southern beach towns of Phuket and Krabi remained closed for a second day Saturday as protesters blockaded passengers from entering, authorities said. Hat Yai airport, also in the south, reopened Saturday.
Bangkok's two airports were not effected by the strikes, the airport authority said.
Hundreds of railway workers continued their second day of a work stoppage by taking emergency sick leave, forcing the cancellation of dozens of passenger and cargo trains throughout the country, said State Railways of Thailand spokesman Pairat Rojcharoen-ngarm.
Samak has insisted he won't step down but his strength appeared to be fraying amid the growing chaos.
The country's influential army commander, Gen. Anupong Paochinda, rejected a request by Samak on Friday to declare a state of emergency, a top army official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the information. Anupong has vowed that the army will not intervene and has called for resolving the crisis by political means.
The Chart Thai Party, a key member of Samak's six-party ruling coalition, said it was ready to suggest that Samak step down.
"The coalition partners have the impression that the situation is deteriorating and we are thinking of telling the prime minister to decide on the future of the government," said Somsak Prisana-anantakul, deputy leader of Chart Thai.
The People's Alliance for Democracy, the protest organizer, accuses Samak's government of serving as a proxy for ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 bloodless coup and banned from public office until 2012. Thaksin, who fled to self-imposed exile in Britain, faces an array of corruption charges.
Samak led Thaksin's political allies to a December 2007 election victory, and their assumption of power triggered fears that Thaksin would make a political comeback on the strength of his continued popularity with Thailand's rural majority.
Anti-government protests started in May but gained momentum Tuesday when protesters occupied the Government House compound. The unrest escalated Friday when protesters clashed with police.
After police forced their way into the Government House compound to deliver a court eviction order, the alliance fought police in running street battles, charging, punching and hitting officers with sticks. They withdrew to display minor injuries they got when police fought back.
Claiming "police brutality," alliance members later laid siege to city police headquarters, demanding the surrender of officers they accused of violence. As they pressed against the gates, police fired tear gas to disperse them.
"The situation is out of control," police spokesman Surapol Tuantong said Friday.
Samak insisted Friday the government would not employ force, but rather "soft and gentle" methods to oust the protesters, indicating he was willing to wait out the protesters, whose numbers go up and down from 2,000 to about 30,000.
He accused the protesters of trying to spark a confrontation with authorities that would lead to violence.
"They want bloodshed in the country. They want the military to come out and do the coup again," he said.


Updated : 2021-10-20 02:33 GMT+08:00