- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2008

BANGKOK | Thai authorities stepped up pressure Wednesday on demonstrators occupying the grounds of the prime minister’s office, getting court orders demanding the crowd disperse and issuing arrest warrants for nine protest leaders on insurrection charges.

The actions raised tensions at the protest site, where at least 2,000 police faced a crowd of rightist demonstrators that appeared to number as many as the 30,000 estimated to have protested the previous day when the compound was seized.

About 5,000 members of the People’s Alliance for Democracy camped on the grounds of Government House to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, while thousands more filled adjoining streets.

A protest leader read the court orders to the crowd late Wednesday, but said protesters would ignore them pending appeals.

Dozens of demonstrators built makeshift barricades to hinder any police raid, despite their leaders saying they would not resist arrest. But while police were out in large numbers, they did not appear to be preparing to quickly enforce the court order.

Mr. Samak said Tuesday that authorities would avoid using force against the demonstrators and would take a “soft and gentle” approach. He accused the protesters of trying to incite violence that could provoke a coup, but said he would not resign.

Gen. Anupong Paochinda, the army chief, reassured the public Tuesday that the military was not planning a coup and would stay out of politics.

The protest alliance wants Mr. Samak’s government to quit, saying it is a proxy for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by the military in 2006 and recently fled to London in the face of several corruption cases.

After Mr. Samak led Mr. Thaksin’s political allies to a victory in national elections in December with the support of Thailand’s rural majority, the alliance launched a new protest campaign in May and it escalated this week with the capture of Government House.

Interior Minister Kowit Watana appealed for the protesters to leave so a ceremony honoring the royal family could be held at Government House as planned Saturday.

The event, which is supposed to be attended by Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, comes at an awkward time for the alliance, which proclaims itself the most loyal supporter of the monarchy. Nearly all Thais revere the royal family, especially King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and to be seen as failing to pay full respect to the royals would be a political liability.

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