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Efforts to Oust Thai Government Stalling Despite Mass Rallies

  • Ron Corben

Efforts by anti-government protestors to force the administration of Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat to resign appear to be stalling. Although the government has taken a soft approach to the protesters, there are growing fears of violence. Ron Corben has this report from Bangkok.

Opponents of the Thai government early Tuesday moved their protest to the temporary government offices at an airport outside Bangkok in their effort to force Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat to resign.

The rallies, seen as a "final push" by the anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy or PAD, on Monday forced parliament to delay its session by blocking access to the building.

While the government has taken a hands-off approach to the protests, there were reports Tuesday evening of shooting between groups of government opponents and supporters. In addition, about 50 government supporters were seen rallying Tuesday, and blocking streets.

It is not clear if anyone has been injured.

The PAD accuses Mr. Somchai of trying to pass constitutional amendments to halt corruption cases against his brother-in-law, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

But Mr. Somchai, who has been in Peru for a meeting of Asia Pacific leaders, dismisses the accusation. He criticizes the PAD for leading a rebellion.

Public support for the PAD appears to waning. It has occupied a government administration building since late August and its leaders say they want to prevent the cabinet and parliament from conducting any business.

Political commentator and author Chris Baker says the PAD's confrontational strategy makes the government appear to be defending democratic ideals.

"The PAD and the people behind them have time after time have challenged the very basis of electoral democracy by actions such as disrupting the parliament, by the coup, by wishing to get rid of one-man-one vote. This has turned those who are opposing them - that is the Thaksin forces - into the defenders of democracy - the simplest form of democracy - so this has become a massive confrontation," said Baker.

Security forces have so far avoided any direct confrontation with the PAD protests. Authorities seek to avoid a repeat of a clash last month in which two people died and about 400 wounded.

The Thai army chief says the military will use "all necessary measures" to avoid clashes by rival groups, and he rejects PAD calls for a coup.

Thailand has faced political uncertainty since 2005, when opponents of Mr. Thaksin began protesting his government, accusing him of being corrupt and authoritarian. He was ousted in a coup in 2006, but his supporters were elected to power a year go.

But Mr. Thaksin, who this week has reportedly vowed to return to politics, maintains strong support in rural areas and among the urban working class who support his populist economic policies of low cost health care.