Thai police muscled into crowds of anti-government protesters occupying the prime minister's office compound today to deliver a court order demanding they leave, sparking scuffles that left several people with minor injuries.
About 1,000 of the demonstrators formed a human chain around five key protest leaders from the People's Alliance for Democracy to prevent their arrest while pressing their demands that the seven-month-old elected government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej step down.
"Brothers, please come and surround our leaders to prevent the police from getting them," protest leader Samran Rodpeth said.
Earlier today, many of the demonstrators - some armed with golf clubs, batons and bamboo sticks - had pushed up to 400 officers out of the Government House grounds in Bangkok, and then celebrated the ousting of the police by dancing to rock music.
But officers later returned to deliver the court order, sparking minor clashes in which about a dozen people were injured as the standoff entered its fourth day.
The alliance accuses Mr Samak's government of serving as a proxy for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and faces several pending corruption cases. Mr Thaksin is in self-imposed exile in Britain.
After Mr Thaksin was deposed in the bloodless coup, his party was dissolved and he was banned from public office until 2012.
But Mr Samak led Mr Thaksin's political allies to a December 2007 election victory, and their assumption of power triggered fears that Mr Thaksin would make a political comeback on the strength of his continued popularity in Thailand's rural majority.
The number of protesters in and around the government compound since protesters overran the grounds on Tuesday has varied from a few thousand most mornings to a high of 30,000.
The alliance promised a "final showdown" this week, but has suffered several setbacks, including when it sent several dozen masked thugs Tuesday to take over a government-controlled television station. The band surrendered to police and video of the bullying tactics were broadcast repeatedly.Reuse content