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Protests Delay New Thai Government's Policy Statement


Thailand's new prime minister has been forced to delay his policy statement.

Up to 9,000 anti-government protesters besieged the main thoroughfares to the Thai Parliament Monday. They prevented Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva from delivering his maiden policy statement. The government tried to persuade the protesters to let the speech go ahead, which would allow the new government to begin work.

The government negotiated with the protesters to end the blockade. But Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said political leaders could not agree with their demand that members of parliament walk through the crowd to reach the chamber.

"We are concerned about the safety of the members of Parliament and also the safety of the people," he said.

Instead, the prime minister will try to give the speech Tuesday.

Mr. Abhisit formed a government two weeks ago after politicians allied with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra defected to his coalition

A member of Mr. Abhisit's Democrat Party, Sirichok Sopha, said the government will not use force against the protesters.

"We will have to negotiate. There is nothing else we can do because we don't use violence and we want to open a dialogue with them and we want to negotiate. We will wait - we have time so that's no problem," he said.

In October, as many as 400 people were injured when policed tried to break up a blockade of the parliament.

For most of this year, protests nearly paralyzed two previous governments, which were tied to former Prime Minister Thaksin. Now, his supporters, known as Red Shirts, contend that Mr. Abhisit's government is invalid and want new elections.

Jakrapob Penkair, a spokesman for the pro-Thaksin group, said the rally will continue for several days.

"The message is we don't want the Abhisit government completely installed. The Red Shirt rally is meant to convey a direct message to him that we see him as an illegitimate government has been formed from factions and defections - that is not the way you form a majority government," he said.

Mr. Thaksin was ousted in a coup two years ago, and lives overseas after being found guilty of corruption in Thailand. He remains very popular among Thailand's poor and rural residents, but the middle class and wealthy consider him corrupt and authoritarian.

In his policy address, Mr. Abhisit is expected to press for national unity and to set out an economic stimulus program worth almost $9 billion.

The economy has been hard hit by Thailand's political divisions as well as the global financial crisis. A blockade of Bangkok's airports a month ago has badly damaged the country's large tourism industry.

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