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Thai Street Protests Continue Despite Government Threats

  • Ron Corben

Thailand's Prime Minister has called on anti-government protest leaders to move their protest rally site from a key business area or the leaders face prosecution. The demonstrators launched their rally three weeks ago to force the government to resign. The government is still hoping to avoid a confrontation with protesters.

In a national televised address Sunday, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva accused anti-government protest leaders of rights violations for staging their protest for a second consecutive day at a key business intersection in downturn Bangkok.

Mr. Abhisit said the anti-government demonstration at the site was in breach of the constitution. But he said the government was ready to look for ways to solve the political crisis.

Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said protest leaders risked legal action under the Internal Security Act if they failed to comply.

"We think that the demonstration is not according with the law as agreed," Panitan said. "We think that the demonstration is not peaceful this is why we need to make sure that these points must be communicated to the demonstrators directly. We will inform the demonstrators and ask them to leave accordingly."

But a crowd of over 20,000 continued to gather Sunday under hot summer skies amid few signs of moving, despite earlier talks between protest leaders and senior police generals who sought to broker an agreement over the rally site.

Rally leaders in convoys converged on the intersection in central Bangkok Saturday. The location is a popular tourist destination with several five star hotels nearby, a hospital and upscale businesses and retail malls. But Sunday most businesses in the area remained closed.

The rallies began in mid-March and were mostly staged in a less commercial area of the city.

The protests are led by the anti-government United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD). The group is known for wearing the color red and largely supports former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawartra.

Mr. Thaksin fled into exile to avoid facing corruption charges and a two year jail sentence. But he has remained in regular contact with the rallies through videophone links, pressing his supporters to continue their protests.

The UDD wants the government to resign within 15 days and call new elections. The government, after earlier talks, offered a compromise of nine months before going to the polls. The UDD has rejected the government's offer.

And while the rallies have attracted many Thaksin supporters from rural and urban low income groups, a growing number of the middle class are also attending.

This Thai woman, who had studied in the United States, and asked not to be named, said dissatisfaction over economic inequality lay at the heart of the protests.

"I have seen so much inequality over here from people - whoever has the bigger connection they can get through whatever they want," she said. "So the poor are getting worse - the rich getting advantage of the people - the poor getting harder for their life."

But some public opinion polls Sunday indicated many people want Mr. Abhisit's government to remain in office out of concern that an early election could undermine a modest recovery now underway in the Thai economy after the recent global recession.

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