24 Nov 2008

Thai protesters prevent parliament meeting

10:23 pm on 24 November 2008

Thousands of anti-government protesters blockaded Thailand's parliament on Monday, forcing it to postpone an important legislative session, the latest twist to a six-month campaign to unseat the elected administration.

The protests have stymied government decision-making, intensifying fears about the export-driven economy's ability to withstand a global recession. Some foreign firms are already cutting back production and jobs.

On Monday hundreds of riot police armed only with shields failed to offer even token resistance against at least 10,000 demonstrators from the People's Alliance for Democracy, many armed with iron bars, golf clubs and stakes.

Parliament speaker Chai Chidchob said that "once the situation returns to normal" he would reschedule a session to debate international agreements that need to be signed at next month's regional summit in the northern city of Chiang Mai.

The People's Alliance for Democracy, which called the march after a grenade killed one activist and wounded 23 last week, also took up positions outside the Finance Ministry and Bangkok police headquarters. Demonstrators cut power and water to all three compounds.

"May victory be with the people," said PAD leader Somkiat Pongpaiboon, who has led the occupation of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat's Government House offices since August to force out his People Power Party administration.

Trucks carrying several hundred PAD protesters also turned up at Bangkok's old Don Muang airport, where Mr Somchai has been operating out of temporary offices for the last three months.

Public sector unions allied to the PAD have called a nationwide strike for Tuesday unless Mr Somchai stands aside, a threat that, if carried out, would deepen the economic impact of a political crisis now in its fourth year.

Mr Somchai returns mid-week from at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Peru, but told Reuters that he had no intention of resigning.

"We have to talk and try for reconciliation," he said.