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Thai Police Issue Arrest Warrants for Demonstration Leaders


Thai police have issued warrants for the arrest of the leaders of this week's protests in Bangkok after thousands surrounded key government buildings. As Ron Corben reports, the protest movement's activities, led by the People's Alliance for Democracy, appears to be losing the backing of its key support base - Bangkok's urban and middle class.

Warrants for the nine key leaders of this week's anti-government protests were issued late Wednesday. They face charges of treason, inciting unrest and attempting to overthrow the government.

On Tuesday, the nine led up to 35,000 people to surround government buildings in Bangkok, demanding that Prime Minister Samak Sundarvej to resign.

Mr. Samak, elected last December, says he will not quit and plans to "seek other measures", including negotiation - to end the protests.

The protesters, many of them supporters of the People's Alliance for Democracy or PAD - continued their demonstration on Wednesday

So far, the protests have been largely free from violence, but Mr. Samak accuses the protest leaders of seeking to trigger bloodshed to lure the military to stage a coup.

Public opinion polls Wednesday indicated over 70 percent surveyed disagreed with the PAD's tactics. Thai news media also criticized the demonstrations.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, says the PAD risks losing support from its key constituency, the urban middle class.

"I don't think the PAD will succeed on this occasion," Thitinan said. "The government has the upper hand. The PAD is hoping for something spontaneous to make a political change. As long as the government is restrained, as long as it does not overreact, time is on the government's side. For the PAD, they are cornered and the government has the upper hand."

Somphob Manarangsan, an economist at Chulalongkorn University, says the Thai government must be careful to avoid violence.

"It's a serious time for the Thai political situation - one of the challenging times of the country," Somphob said. "So if they rethink about the situation and then have a mechanism to turn the prospective violence into the more peaceful way, it will solve the problem."

Somphob says among the government's possible solutions are dissolving parliament and calling for fresh elections, or for Mr. Samak to stand down and allow parliament elect a new prime minister.

The protestors say Mr. Samak's government acts as a nominee for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. He was ousted in a coup two years ago, after months of PAD-led demonstrations.

Thailand's political landscape has been deeply divided since Mr. Thaksin's election in 2001, when he drew widespread support from the poor and rural residents. Thailand's urban middle class, however, considered him corrupt and authoritarian.

Mr Thaksin, facing court trial on corruption charges, earlier this month fled to Britain. He says he is innocent and accuses the Thai judiciary of bias.

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