30 Dec 2008

Thai leader switches venues to foil protestors

9:43 pm on 30 December 2008

Thailand's new prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, switched venues for his maiden policy speech after riot police failed to clear protesters besieging Bangkok's parliament building.

Democrat Party leader Mr Abhisit, who was elected in a parliamentary vote earlier in December, gave his address at the foreign ministry as protracted political turmoil in the kingdom showed no sign of ending. He was originally due to speak on Monday.

Hundreds of riot police armed with shields tried repeatedly to push open the gates and create a path for MPs to enter parliament. However, more than 2000 red-shirted protesters calling for new elections refused to budge.

They are loyal to Thaksin Shinawatra, the premier ousted in a 2006 coup. They say Mr Abhisit's government is not legitimate because he came to power after the Thaksin-linked former ruling party was dissolved by a court early this month.

Mr Abhisit is Thailand's fourth prime minister this year, after months of street protests, including a week-long blockade of Bangkok's main airports.

The political impasse began three years ago and resulted in a coup in 2006 against the Thaksin government.