- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2008

BANGKOK | Thousands of demonstrators shut down Thailand’s parliament Monday, but even as protest leaders declared victory, they warned that their “final struggle” to oust the elected government will only intensify .

There were only minor scuffles as protesters, who call themselves the People’s Alliance for Democracy, successfully blockaded the parliament building in their campaign to force the resignation of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat.

Police, under strict orders to avoid the use of force, exercised restraint as demonstrators pushed past them, sometimes showering them with curses in an apparent effort to provoke a violent response that might discredit the authorities.

“Tomorrow is going to be more intense,” top protest leader Chamlong Srimuang said. “We request that you sleep well tonight to save your energy.”

He said the coming demonstrations would be peaceful. An attempt to blockade Parliament on Oct. 7 resulted in clashes with police that left two dead and hundreds wounded.

Parliament postponed a joint session of both houses Monday after protesters surrounded the building and cut electric lines to the building. House Speaker Chai Chidchob said the session would be rescheduled “when the situation returns to normal.”

Smaller demonstrations followed at the Finance Ministry and Bangkok’s old international airport, which now serves as the temporary offices for Mr. Somchai’s government. Thousands of protesters were camping out Monday night at the airport, where the alliance has appeared to shifted its attention.

The blockade was the latest turn in a political crisis that began in 2006, when a similar campaign against then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra led to his being deposed by a military coup for purported corruption and abuse of power.

But further efforts to cripple Mr. Thaksin’s political machine failed, and his political allies won a December 2007 election.

The alliance then resumed its street protests and finally stormed the prime minister’s office compound on Aug. 26, vowing not to leave until they have forced Mr. Thaksin’s allies from power. They accuse Mr. Somchai of acting as a proxy for Mr. Thaksin, who is his bother-in-law.

Thailand’s economy, already struggling amid the global downturn, has been hit hard by the political turmoil. The state planning agency said Monday that it grew at its slowest pace in more than three years this past quarter.

Mr. Thaksin, who is currently in the Arab emirate of Dubai, said he could steady the economy and would return home if the king pardoned him.

“With me at the helm, I can bring confidence quickly back to Thailand,” Mr. Thaksin told Arabian Business magazine.

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