Calls for Thai leader to resign

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The Independent Online

Protesters committed to ousting Thailand's elected government vowed to stage more intense protests today, a day after they shut down the country's Parliament.

There were only minor scuffles yesterday as protesters, who call themselves the People's Alliance for Democracy, successfully blockaded the Parliament building in their campaign to force the resignation of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat.

Police, under strict orders to avoid the use of force, exercised restraint as demonstrators pushed past them, sometimes showering them with curses in an apparent effort to provoke a violent response that might discredit the authorities.

"Tomorrow is going to be more intense," top protest leader Chamlong Srimuang said. "We request that you sleep well tonight to save your energy."

After their march on Parliament forced a postponement of a session of lawmakers, smaller demonstrations followed at the Finance Ministry and Bangkok's old international airport, which now serves as the temporary offices for Somchai's government. Thousands of protesters were camping out Monday night at the airport, where the alliance appeared to shift its attention.

The blockade was the latest turn in a political crisis that began in 2006, when a similar campaign against then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra led to him being deposed by a military coup for alleged corruption and abuse of power.

But further efforts to cripple Thaksin's political machine failed, and his political allies won a December 2007 election.

The alliance then resumed its street protests and finally stormed the prime minister's office compound on Aug. 26, vowing not to leave until they have forced Thaksin's allies from power. They accuse Somchai of acting as a proxy for Thaksin, who is his bother-in-law.

Thailand's economy, already struggling amid the global downturn, has been hit hard by the political turmoil. The state planning agency said Monday it grew at its slowest pace in more than three years this past quarter.

Thaksin, who is currently in Dubai, said he could steady the economy and would return home if the king pardoned him.

"With me at the helm I can bring confidence quickly back to Thailand," Thaksin told Arabian Business magazine.

Thaksin fled overseas in August to escape corruption charges. He has been sentenced to two years in jail for violating a conflict of interest law.

Somchai was in Peru on Monday for a summit of Pacific Rim leaders.