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Protesters defy PM's threat to end blockade by force

Article published on the 2008-05-31 Latest update 2008-07-17 08:39 TU

Protestors in central Bangkok(Photo: Reuters)

Protestors in central Bangkok
(Photo: Reuters)

Protesters in the Thai capital Bangkok say that they won't end their blockade of a major road in the city, despite a threat by Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej to call in police and soldiers to remove them. Leaders of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) claim that the protest, which has been going on since last Sunday, is legal.

"PAD will not abandon any of you. I will not run away from death. I want to tell you that whatever happens to me, please take revenge for me," said Sondhi Limthongkul to about 2,000 demonstrators today. Limthongkul, a media magnate and talk show host, helped found the Bangkok-based movement.

Earlier, in a televised address, Prime Minister Samak told the demonstrators: "You must leave, otherwise police will help you move."

Police say the demonstrators' numbers have swelled to about 10,000 during the week. Similar demonstrations by the PAD led to the military coup which toppled Samak's ally Thaksin Shinawatra in early 2006.  

"Who do you want to stage a coup this time?” Samak asked his opponents. “If you want to fight, we fight in parliament." The military says that Samak has yet to give the order to remove the blockade.

The demonstration began in opposition to Samak's plan to amend the constitution that was introduced by the military-backed government after the 2006 coup. Royalists oppose the proposed changes.

Left-wing academic Giles Ungpakhorn told RFI that this week's protests are slightly different from those in 2006.

"Firstly, they are smaller, and secondly, they are much more right-wing," he said. "They are protests to defend nation, religion and king, which are the slogans of the extreme right-wing."

On Friday, a minister attached to the Prime Minister's office, Jakrapob Pankair, resigned after police said they had enough evidence to charge him with insulting the royal family.

The accusation relates to a speech Jakrapob made to the Foreign Correspondents' Club about the September 2006 coup which received tacit support from King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Jakrapob could face up to 15 years in jail if found guilty..