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Thai Protesters Trap Legislators


Thai Protesters Trap Legislators

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By SETH MYDANS and THOMAS FULLER
Published: October 7, 2008

BANGKOK — In a day of street battles that left more than 100 people injured, thousands of anti-government protesters surrounded the Thai Parliament Tuesday, trapping hundreds of members inside for more than five hours.
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Sakchai Lalit/Associated Press

Anti-government protesters fleeing from tear gas fired by riot police in front of parliament in Bangkok on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat escaped over a back fence in the morning after delivering a policy address. But other members were unable to leave until the police dispersed the protesters and cleared the way for them.

“We ran, ran, ran,” said one Parliament member, Niyom Vejkarma, who had stripped off his jacket and tie and fled from the building in his patent leather shoes.

“My eyes are sore,” he said, referring to the tear gas that lingered in the air, as he and fellow lawmakers stood at a street corner with their mobile telephones and called their drivers.

The siege escalated a six-week sit-in on the grounds of the prime minister’s office, less than a mile away, that has forced the government to relocate its business to a former international airport.

The surrounding of the Parliament, meanwhile, appeared to have been well planned and well supplied. Protesters distributed food, water and masks to protect against tear gas. They made barricades out of tires and razor wire and secured the entrance to the Parliament building. Groups of reinforcements arrived during the afternoon, some carrying banners.

The police attacked the protesters repeatedly, firing tear gas canisters and stun grenades and injuring scores of people, including two who lost parts of their legs.

The protesters, some wearing motorcycle helmets and masks, some armed with metal rods, machetes and slingshots, threw back tear gas canisters as well as rocks and firecrackers.

A hospital spokesman quoted by The Associated Press said 118 people had been injured, 24 of them seriously. A police spokesman said several police officers were also hurt, including one who was stabbed in the abdomen with a metal pole.

Queen Sirikit, the wife of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, donated 100,000 baht, or about $2,900, to Vachira Hospital to help treat the injured, said hospital director Wanchai Chareonchoktawee. Both sides in the political standoff have claimed allegiance to the monarchy.

“Together we win or lose, we will know it today, we won’t give up,” said Anchalee Paireerak, a leader of the People’s Alliance for Democracy, the anti-government group that has held street protests since May and continues to occupy the grounds of the prime minister’s office.

The alliance is a patchwork coalition of businessmen, academics and activists who accuse the government of being a proxy for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006 and who is now a fugitive in London where he has asked for political asylum to avoid corruption cases against him.

They seek to modify the country’s democratic system to weaken the electoral power of the rural poor, who formed the base of support of Mr. Thaksin and now of the ruling People Power Party.

The prime minister is a brother-in-law of Mr. Thaksin, but has sought to find a compromise with the protesters since taking office three weeks ago. Their aggressive action Tuesday appeared to have derailed the early stages of talks between the two sides.

Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh resigned early in the day, taking responsibility for the failure of the talks.

In his policy speech, before he fled the building, Mr. Somchai said, “This government is determined to tackle economic problems and to listen to all sides to find a solution to end the crisis.”

Mr. Somchai took office after his predecessor, Samak Sundaravej, was forced to step down by a court, which found him guilty of conflict of interest for being paid to appear on a televised cooking show.

During a day of violence, protesters also set fire to parked cars and trucks and smashed the windows of police vans.

About a mile away from the fighting, an unidentified person was killed when a vehicle exploded near the headquarters of the Chart Thai Party, a member of the six-party government coalition. The police said they suspected that a bomb had caused the explosion.

Despite the violence, during the day the crowd outside Parliament had a sometimes lighthearted air, with middle-class men and women and even a few children joining the crowd.

“I’m here to chase out the government,” said Pihanuch Klangrach, 19, a computer science student who was wearing a Mickey Mouse hat, shorts, a yellow shirt and heels.

Some distance from the demonstration, Supit Nakham, 42, the driver of a three-wheel “tuk-tuk” taxi, voiced the feelings of many other Thais who have become weary of the protests and the economic damage they have caused:

“I’m bored with this. The economy is bad. Fewer tourists are coming to Thailand. There are traffic jams all over the place. I can’t work. They should talk this out and the demonstration should stop.”

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October 7, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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