Thai protesters defiant despite mass arrest threat

Protesters defied orders to leave the Thai capital's main shopping district on Sunday despite threats of mass arrests.

Thai protesters defiant despite mass arrest threat

Tens of thousands of protesters defied orders to leave the Thai capital's main shopping district on Sunday despite threats of mass arrests, upping the ante on the fourth week of a bold street rally to press for fresh elections.

The government said the red-shirted protesters who overran a a district housing sleek upmarket department stores and five-star hotels on Saturday could each face up to a year in jail and a 20,000 baht ($620) fine if they don't leave.

The government said it would officially ban protests from 9:00 pm (1400 GMT) in the area under a tough security law introduced in response to rolling demonstrations which began in mid-March.

Protesters would be asked to leave or face prosecution because of the damage to businesses and tourism, said government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn.

"The government has no alternative except to enforce the law," he said.

"The blockade of roads around the intersection is an exercise of public rights beyond what the constitution provides," Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said after talks between authorities and the protesters yielded nothing substantive.

"Simply winning enough votes in parliament does not mean he is accepted by people," said Nattawut Saikua, a protest leader.

"Symbol of Bangkok elite"

The more than 50,000 protesters also ignored a deadline at 9 p.m. (local time) on Saturday to leave the area where Central World, the second-largest shopping complex in Southeast Asia, and half a dozen other big malls and retailers shut their doors in response to plans by the protesters to stay for days.

The mostly rural and working-class demonstrators have said they will not leave until Abhisit's government dissolves parliament and calls elections.

Protest leader Veera Musikapong told Reuters his "red shirts" would remain until at least Monday. "We have no choice but to step up civil disobedience until the government listens," he said.

"This area is a symbol of Bangkok elite. We want to show them they cannot rule without consensus of the people."

Backed by Thailand's powerful military and royalist establishment, Abhisit said a peaceful poll now would be difficult given the tensions and repeated his recent offer to dissolve parliament in December, a year early.

"I am not trying to do anything simply to cling to my job, nor do I attache priority to staying full term," he said.

The "red shirts", supporters of twice-elected and now fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, say Abhisit has no popular mandate and came to power illegitimately, heading a coalition the military cobbled together after courts dissolved a pro-Thaksin party that led the previous government.

Abhisit says he was voted into office by the same parliament that picked his Thaksin-allied predecessors.

Seizing an area to oust leaders is becoming a common tactic in politically tense Thailand.

In 2008, yellow-shirted protesters who opposed Thaksin's allies in the previous government occupied the prime minister's office for three months and then blockaded Bangkok's main airport until a court expelled the government.

At the centre of the impasse is Thaksin, ousted in a 2006 coup but a rallying symbol for the poor as the first Thai civilian leader to reach out to rural voters in his 2001 election campaign.

The 60-year-old former telecommunications tycoon often rallies supporters through social networking site Twitter from self-imposed exile, mostly in Dubai. On Saturday, he "tweeted" that the "red shirts" should continue occupying the area.


Reuters

Güncelleme Tarihi: 04 Nisan 2010, 15:12

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