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Thai Protesters Demand Prime Minister Step Down


Tens of thousands protesters have rallied outside Thailand's government house in a bid to force Prime Minister Samak Sundarvej from office. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, protesters pushed their way into the compound surrounding the building and early in the day also entered the studios of a state broadcaster and temporarily halted transmission.

An alliance of anti-government groups organized Tuesday's rally, bringing tens of thousands of people onto roads surrounding the Thai government's administration building. Protesters say they plan to blockade other key government buildings.

They demand that Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej stand down. They accuse his government of corruption and say he is merely a stand-in for former Prime Minister Thakshin Shinawatra.

There have been smaller protests nearly every day for three months. Opposition leaders called for massive rally for what they call D-Day to pressure Mr. Samak's seven-month-old administration to resign.

Khun Nanthana has tended many of the protests.

"We don't want the Samak government because he's very corrupted and he is a nominee from the Thaksin government," Khun said. "Thaksin is not really gone - he's a billionaire - he exploited Thailand and took everything, and he's got lots o money so he can pull strings.

Mr. Thaksin held office from 2001 to 2006, when he was ousted in a military coup after being accused of abusing his power. He faces several court cases on corruption charges. Earlier this month he fled to Britain, saying he could not get a fair trial. Mr. Thaksin denies any wrongdoing.

Earlier Tuesday, up to 80 armed men, claiming they were anti-government activists, broke into the studios of a state television broadcaster and temporarily disrupted broadcasts. While rally protesters cheered news of the incident, it is not clear who organized it.

Police made several arrests at the television station but the overall police presence has been modest, apparently as the government seeks to avoid violence.

Chum Lelayuwa, an advertising industry executive, says many people are attending the rally to literally "blow the whistle" on corruption.

"People blow the whistle - we blow the whistle now," Chum said. "We send a signal to all the Thai people that the government [is] no longer legal. He's [Mr. Samak] got to go out."

Protest organizers were expecting as many as 300,000 to attend the rally over the length of the day, although around midday, police estimated the crowd was around 30,000.

Thailand has been wracked by political divisions for nearly four years, as the Thai middle class turned against Mr. Thaksin.

But Mr. Thaksin remains a popular figure among the urban and rural poor largely thanks to his plans cheap health care and low-cost loans for village projects. Mr. Samak's government has maintained many of these programs.

The rally led to share prices tumbling on the Thai stock exchange in early trading.

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