PATTAYA, Thailand (AP) - Hundreds of anti-government protesters
demanding the resignation of the Thai prime minister faced off
Friday against riot police near where a summit of Asian leaders
will be held.
The protesters gathered at a police checkpoint on a road leading
up a hill toward the summit venue where leaders of 16 Asian nations
will gather this weekend. There was no violence, but protesters
drove a truck to the line of helmeted riot police and were
threatening to break through.
The East Asia Summit brings together leaders from the 10-member
Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China, Japan, South Korea,
India, Australia and New Zealand.
On Thursday, the demonstrators whose numbers have swelled to
100,000 in recent days brought areas of Bangkok, the Thai capital,
to a standstill.
Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban sought to assure
visiting heads of state that they will be safe from an alliance of
democracy activists and supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin
"Nothing untoward will happen to the leaders. We will make sure
of that," Suthep said. "We have to make sure the meeting can go
Deputy National Police Chief Wiroj Pahonvej said about 8,000
policemen, including riot police, have been deployed in Pattaya,
about 90 miles (145 kilometers) southeast of Bangkok. Army troops
will be on standby if needed, he said.
Tens of thousands of protesters tried a new tactic Thursday,
blocking a major intersection and other choke points in the capital
in their campaign to force Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva from
office. A few dozen taxi drivers parked to block traffic, and other
protesters later joined them and rallied into the night despite
Vast traffic jams - dubbed "political gridlock" by local media
- plagued thousands of commuters and the government declared Friday
a holiday in hopes of calming the situation.
"What they did yesterday is a deliberate attempt to cause
chaos. It has become illegal and the government will have to pursue
criminal cases (against them)," Suthep said. He said the
government will request arrest warrants for the leaders but did not
Protest leaders said at least a thousand demonstrators would
move to Pattaya.
"We will protest peacefully. We will not besiege anything or
stop anyone from coming and going," said Nattawut Sai-kua, a
protest leader. "We just want to tell Asian leaders this
government does not represent us, the majority of the country."
But other protest leaders have threatened to shut down the
summit if the government continues to ignore their demands.
"We have prepared enough security for the summit and it will be
difficult for them to get close to the site. We will also prevent
them from blocking the roads outside the hotels but there are
limits to what we can do because the last thing we want is a
confrontation," Wiroj said.
Protesters say Thaksin was wrongfully ousted in a September 2006
military coup. His allies, however, quickly regained power, setting
off months of protests last year by his opponents that culminated
in the weeklong occupation of Bangkok's airports. After court
rulings removed two prime ministers, Abhisit took power -
illegitimately, the demonstrators say. They say he should step
aside and call elections.
The pro-Thaksin forces accuse the country's elite - the
military, judiciary and other unelected officials - of interfering
Safety concerns were heightened this week when a car carrying
Abhisit was attacked by protesters in Pattaya. Abhisit was not
hurt, but a rear window was shattered.
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