Thai protesters vow final showdown with government
By GRANT PECK,Associated Press Writer AP - Monday, November 24
BANGKOK, Thailand - Police prepared barricades, schools canceled classes and zoo animals were moved to safety as Bangkok braced for an anti-government protest Monday that demonstrators said would be their final showdown in a struggle that has turned increasingly violent.
The demonstrators, who call themselves the People's Alliance for Democracy, say they want to block Parliament from considering a bill to rewrite the constitution. Tens of thousands of their supporters gathered Sunday at their rally site at the prime minister's office, and vowed to march to Parliament the following day.
They have been occupying the grounds of the prime minister's office for three months in their effort to topple the government, which they charge is the puppet of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
They accuse Thaksin, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup, of corruption and abuse of power, and claim the bill before the legislature would help him stage a comeback. Thaksin is currently in exile, a fugitive from a two-year jail term imposed after he was convicted last month of violating a conflict of interest law.
The last time the group marched on Parliament, police efforts to disperse them resulted in running street battles. Two people were killed in the Oct. 7 violence and hundreds injured.
The fracas also disturbed animals at Dusit Zoo across the road, and zookeepers were forced to comfort highly strung animals such as kangaroos.
On Sunday, kangaroos, wallabies and elephants were taken by their handlers to the far side of the zoo, where they would be more protected from any mayhem. Dusit Zoo director Kanchanachai Saenwong said that despite the confrontations in the area, there were no plans to relocate the zoo.
The Education Ministry ordered four public schools in the area closed.
Police said 2,400 policemen would be stationed outside Parliament, which is about half a mile (one kilometer) from the prime minister's compound.
"Police and soldiers will not be armed with lethal weapons, only shields and batons," government spokesman Nattawut Sai-gua told The Associated Press.
The protest alliance also says it is committed to nonviolence, though forays outside its stronghold are usually led by tough young men, who carry homemade weapons such as iron rods _ and in some cases handguns _ and who have won a reputation for aggressive behavior.
The alliance accused police of being behind an attack last week in which grenades killed two protesters during demonstrations at and near the occupied Government House. Authorities have denied the charge.
Protest leaders were calling for Sunday's rally to be their biggest ever, but the number that turned out appeared to be at most just one-quarter to one-third the 100,000 supporters protest spokesman Parnthep Wongpuapan said had been expected.
"It will be D-Day. This will be our final push to bring down the government," 64-year-old protester Chokchuang Chutinaton said.
The alliance's supporters are largely middle-class citizens, who say Thailand's electoral system is susceptible to vote-buying and argues 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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Anti-government protesters arrive Sunday, Nov. 23, 2008, outside Government House in Bangkok, Thailand. Anti-government protesters said Sunday they were massing activists in the Thai capital for their biggest rally yet in a final showdown with the government, while the military deployed soldiers to deter violence. (AP Photo/David Longstreath)
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