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Thousands call for government to go

Article published on the 2008-06-20 Latest update 2008-06-20 10:04 TU

Anti-government protesters in Bangkok(Photo: Reuters)

Anti-government protesters in Bangkok
(Photo: Reuters)

Thousands of protesters calling for Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej’s resignation marched to his office Friday, where they met riot police lines cordoning off the area. They are led by the same movement which organised the protests that preceded the 2006 coup against Samak's ally, Thaksin Shinawattra.

The march, led by retired major general Chamlong Srimuang, who now leads a group of politicised Buddhist monks, attempted to break through police lines. They carried symbols of the Thai monarchy, which has lasted through the ups and downs of Thailand’s political turmoil, including 18 coup d’états since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932.

The protests have been building for four weeks, both in the streets and in Parliament.

The demonstrators accuse Samak of interference in the judicial process, as well as inability or unwillingness to deal with rising food and fuel prices. The unrest has also been fuelled by the impression that Samak is continuing the policies of his close political ally, Thaksin Shinawatra, the billionaire politician toppled in a bloodless coup in September 2006.

The protests are led by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the same group that organised rallies against Thaksin. The organisation is close to the elite and the military, and opposed Thaksin’s populist policies of helping the poor and rural populations.

Samak is now feeling pressure from many sides. The street protestors might soon be joined by farmers and truckers, who are threatening strikes, and the opposition Democrat Party which lodged a motion of no-confidence in the prime minister on Wednesday.

“The government’s days are numbered, but whether there will be a coup or not, I cannot say. Certainly the military has a very strong role to play in stabilising the political uncertainty,” said Kavi Chongkittavorn, deputy editor of the Nation Multimedia Group in Bangkok.

Fears of a new coup have taken a toll on Thailand’s stock market, which has fallen 15 per cent in the last month.