Thai authorities warn of "decisive action" over protests

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The Independent Online

Thousands of Thai riot police are tonight trying to disperse crowds of demonstrators gathered on the lawn in front of the prime minister's office after they stormed the gates in the latest anti-government demonstration.

As the authorities warned of "decisive action" if the crowds did not move willingly, at the same time, arrest warrants were issued for the leaders of the demonstrations, charging them with insurrection - a crime that theoretically carries the death penalty.

"The Prime Minister said it has to end today," said a spokesman for premier Samak Sundaravej. "Thousands of police will be deployed to move the protesters out of the Government House."

The demonstrators, themselves numbering several thousand, stormed into the compound yesterday evening and stayed there overnight. Many more are outside the gates or else demonstrating at other government buildings and some reports claim that up to 30,000 people are involved in protests across Bangkok.

The current stand-off is the latest in a series of anti-government demonstrations launched by the People Alliance for Democracy (PAD), an organisation whose campaign in 2005 against then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra ultimately led to him being ousted in a military coup the following year.

The PAD - whose senior figures include a media tycoon, a politician and a general -- accuse the government of acting as a proxy for Mr Thaksin, who has fled into exile in London to avoid corruption charges. The alliance also styles itself as a defender of Thailand's much-revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej and claims that the Mr Thaksin is hatching a plot to declare the country a republic - something he adamantly denies.

But whereas in 2005, the PAD drew support from the middle-classes and the country's business community, polls suggest the majority of the public is not supportive of its efforts to oust the current government. A survey carried out by Bangkok University found that 73 per cent of people in the capital disagreed with the current campaign, which has been going on for three months. The Thai media has also been largely critical and the country's stock market has fallen by 23 per cent since the demonstrations were launched earlier this year.

But it seems that neither opinion polls nor the threat of jail will deter the leaders of the demonstrations After the warrants were issued, one of the most prominent leaders, Chamlong Srimuang, urged the protesters to stand their ground.

Mr Chamlong, a former general and devout Buddhist who is both celibate and a vegetarian, added: "More people will join us tomorrow. Don't leave or we will lose. If we hold on, we will win in the next three to four days."

The Thai prime minister, also a television chef, has insisted he will not use force to move the protesters camped outside his office, saying they were trying to incite violence in order to create the conditions for another coup. He is also adamant that he will not resign. "They want bloodshed in the country," he said of the protesters. "They want the military to come out and do the coup again."

Mr Samak, head of the People Power Party, has been Thailand's prime minister since January. When he came to office he did not try to hide his friendship with Mr Thakisn.

The Manchester City owner returned to Thailand six months ago, promising that he would fight the corruption charges facing him and his wife, Pojaman. But earlier this month he flew to the UK, claiming that there had been threats against his life back home. The country's Supreme Court immediately issued arrest warrants for the couple.