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Protesters Fill Prime Minister's Office In Bangkok


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.



And I'm Renee Montagne.

Thailand's government is trying to figure out what to do with unwanted visitors at the prime minister's compound. Protestors have occupied the grounds of that office for three days. They're armed with a few items more dangerous than golf clubs, but the government has yet to find a way to make them go. Officials have said they don't want to use force, though they have issued arrest warrants for some of the protestors' leaders. The protestors say it is the prime minister who should go, not them.

NPR's Michael Sullivan is at the prime minister's compound.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN: No, it's pretty much the same atmosphere, Renee. I mean, it's very loud. It's very chaotic. There's lots of speakers here who just get up and demand the resignation of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej. And they also accuse him of being a proxy for the deposed prime minister, the man who was removed by the Thai military in September 2006.

There's thousands of people here having a good time. They're sitting on blankets. They're sitting under umbrellas to get out of the sun. They're having boxed lunches. There's plenty to drink, and they're having a good time and they say they're not leaving.


MONTAGNE: Remind us why these protestors want this prime minister to resign, exactly.

SULLIVAN: They say this prime minister is basically doing the bidding of the last prime minister - the deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. And they say that he's doing everything in his power to make sure that Thaksin can return to Thailand and basically keep pulling the strings here, even though the military had the coup against Thaksin two years ago, and even though this government of Samak Sundaravej was democratically elected in December 2007. But nonetheless, they say he's just absolutely done nothing. All he's done is (unintelligible) Thaksin, that he's corrupt and that he's accomplished nothing in the seven months since this government took power.

MONTAGNE: And any chance that the protestors will prevail, that he'll actually resign? And if so, what does that do to Thailand?

SULLIVAN: I think there's very, very little chance that Samak will resign. In fact, he said he's not going to do it. I think there's very little chance that this demonstration's legs will last. I mean, it seems like there are fewer people here today than there were yesterday. I suspect there'll be a lot more people after work.

But I think this thing may have crested last night. I mean, I was here about midnight last night, and there were tens of thousands of people here last night. And many of them were forming this protective cordon around the nine PAD leaders who the arrest warrants have been issued for. And the atmosphere here was very, very tense late last night. And people expected a confrontation. They thought one was going to happen, and it didn't.

And today I saw the riot police that were stationed behind the building, many of them actually withdrew today. And you know what I think? I think the government is trying to wait these protestors out. They're going to let them sit here and there're going to let this thing sort of dissipate fizzle out, even though the protestors said that they're going to carry on until the government resigns.

MONTAGNE: Well, and, you know, just finally, what would that mean if this protest just dissipates? In the long term, has this been sort of a political blip for Thailand?

SULLIVAN: I don't think so, because we've had this political uncertainty basically since the original protest launched by this same group started against the deposed Prime Minister Thaksin in 2005.

I mean, basically, you have this very deep divide between what I guess you could call a Bangkok elite and the rest of the country. Thaksin was very good at exploiting that divide. And he was reelected several times by the vast majority of the people here who are poor and who do not necessarily agree with the policies of the Bangkok-based political groups who are a part of the PAD's base here.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much. NPR's Michael Sullivan speaking to us from Bangkok. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.