Thai protesters vow final showdown with government
By MICK ELMORE,Associated Press Writer AP - Monday, November 24
BANGKOK, Thailand - Protesters seeking the resignation of Thailand's prime minister massed in the capital Sunday for what they said would be their biggest rally yet and a final showdown with the government. Thousands of soldiers and police were ordered to use nonviolent means to keep the peace.
The protesters, who call themselves the People's Alliance for Democracy, hoped more than 100,000 supporters would march with them to Parliament on Sunday evening or early Monday. Chamlong Srimuang, a key protest leader, told reporters the group would not try to march in the middle of the night.
"It's useless to move in the dark," Chamlong said as a growing crowd gathered at the prime minister's compound, which the protesters have occupied since August. The alliance has previously marched at night.
"It will be D-Day. This will be our final push to bring down the government," 64-year-old protester Chokchuang Chutinaton said, echoing Chamlong's rallying cry Saturday for supporters to join the march.
Alliance protesters are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat. They accuse him of being a proxy for his brother-in-law, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup for alleged corruption and abuse of power.
The protesters have been attacked several times by small bombs and grenades, including a blast Thursday that killed one person and wounded 29, and another Saturday that injured eight. No one has claimed responsibility.
Army spokesman Col. Sansern Khaewkamnerd said police would be responsible for keeping the situation under control, but that 2,000 soldiers would be on standby in case police ask for help.
Police said 2,400 police would be stationed outside Parliament, which is about half a mile (1 kilometer) from the occupied prime minister's compound, Government House.
Hundreds of protesters dressed in yellow shirts streamed into the compound in the afternoon, chanting slogans and shaking hand-shaped clappers that created a loud clacking rattle. The mood was upbeat with the atmosphere of a street festival. Activists handed out flyers while people lined up for spicy rice and vegetable dishes or to buy T-shirts.
The government met with police and military officials Sunday and they agreed to use "nonviolent ways to deal with the PAD protesters," government spokesman Natawut Saikau told The Associated Press.
"Police and soldiers will not be armed with lethal weapons, only shields and batons," Natawut said.
The last time the protesters marched on Parliament, street battles with police left two dead and hundreds wounded. Nearly 100,000 protesters were involved in the Oct. 7 events, the biggest march so far and the country's worst political violence in more than a decade.
"We expect more than 100,000 supporters for the rally," PAD spokesman Parnthep Wongpuapan said Sunday.
Both houses of Parliament are scheduled to convene at 9:30 a.m. Monday and "they will decide tomorrow whether to move the meeting place or postpone it," Natawut said.
The alliance, including royalists, wealthy and middle-class urban residents and union activists, says Thailand's electoral system is susceptible to vote-buying. They say the rural majority _ the Thaksin camp's power base _ is not sophisticated enough to cast ballots responsibly.
They propose replacing an elected Parliament with one that is mostly appointed, a move critics charge is meant to keep power in the hands of the educated, urban elite.
Associated Press Writer Nicolas B. Tatro contributed to this report.
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