Wednesday, April 1, 2009

BANGKOK (AP) - Thousands of demonstrators defied a court order to clear a road they have blocked to the prime minister’s office, vowing Wednesday to continue ringing the compound until the government resigns.

Protesters surrounded the compound of Government House for the seventh straight day in the biggest challenge faced by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s three-month-old government.

The demonstrators, supporters of ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra, say the current administration came to power through illegitimate means _ after a Thaksin-allied government was dissolved by a court. They call on the administration to hold fresh elections.

Abhisit, who is in London to represent Southeast Asian countries at the G-20 summit, has rejected calls to leave office.

Wednesday’s protest mixed fiery speeches with a carnival-like atmosphere. The demonstrators sang and danced to folk music on the streets during breaks from political speeches blaring from loudspeakers. Free food and iced beverages were provided in the midday heat.

“We are not going anywhere until we win,” protest leader Nattawut Sai-kua told the crowd. “We must return Thailand to the path of democracy through civil disobedience.”

Nattawut said they planned to appeal the Civil Court’s injunction issued Tuesday ordering protesters to clear the road.

Ignoring the court notices posted on the gates, protesters refused to remove barbed wire and metal barricades at the entrances to the seat of government.

Nattawut said protesters have appealed the Civil Court’s injunction.

In a bid to step up pressure on the government, demonstrators planned to march to the Finance Ministry on Thursday to express their dissatisfaction with the management of the country’s economy, he said.

Hundreds of riot police and soldiers armed only with shields and helmets stood guard inside the compound of Government House. Hundreds of others were deployed in the surrounding area. But there were no signs security officials would enforce the order.

“We ask the protesters to follow the court order,” Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thuaksuban. “But we will not use violence or cause the use of violence which would only plunge the country into chaos.”

Police Lt. Gen. Worapong Chiewpreecha said security officials have not been ordered to disperse the crowd, echoing the government’s stance it will not resort to violent measures to break up the rallies.

Suthep and Worapong declined to comment on what authorities would do if peaceful measures fail.

Suthep said he was ready to hold talks with Thaksin in a bid to end the protests, but added the government would not dissolve Parliament and hold fresh elections, or grant amnesty to the former leader. Thaksin and more than a hundred of his allies were banned from politics until 2012 for electoral fraud.

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