Page last updated at 11:48 GMT, Thursday, 26 March 2009

Rally calls for Thailand PM to go


The protesters make their way to Government House using cranes to remove obstacles in their way

Thousands of Thai anti-government protesters have rallied outside Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's compound in Bangkok, calling on him to resign.

The protesters, supporters of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, are calling for fresh elections, saying Mr Abhisit came to power illegally in December.

The rally is the biggest by Thaksin supporters since a protest camp outside parliament broke up in February.

Mr Thaksin was ousted by the military in 2006 and is living abroad.

About 10,000 police and soldiers were deployed for the protest, Bangkok police commander Lt Gen Worapong Chiwpreecha said.

'Get out!'

The red-shirted demonstrators, from the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), say the current government is a puppet of the military.

The protesters, estimated to number at least 20,000, brought in cranes to remove shipping containers that police had positioned to block roads outside Government House in central Bangkok.

Anti-government demonstrator with Thaksin Shinawatra mask - 26/3/2009
We only want to chase the government out, not do anything else, because the government is supported by the army
Thai protester

Chanting "Get out! Get out!", they ringed Government House and listened to fiery anti-Abhisit speeches from the protest's leaders.

"Today we have only one aim, to oust this government," said protest leader Jatuporn Prompan.

He said thousands of UDD supporters had defied the military and government to come to the capital from other parts of Thailand.

"We only want to chase the government out, not do anything else, because the government is supported by the army," said one protester, Saming Saelin.

"When it's supported by the army how can democracy go on? Impossible."

The protesters also criticised government cheques of 2,000 baht ($56; £39) distributed to millions of low-income earners in an attempt to stimulate the economy.

As the first of the cheques were distributed just hours before the protest began, Mr Abhisit defended the "help the nation" scheme as a way to quickly get money into the economy.

Thailand is going through its worst economic slump since the late 1990s as exports are hit by plunging international demand.

Political paralysis

Thai politics have been in turmoil since Thaksin was ousted in a coup in 2006. A court sentenced him in absentia to two years in prison on corruption charges, and he has been living in self-imposed exile since.

After a year of military rule, a general election was held which returned a pro-Thaksin government.

But that government was effectively paralysed by a long-running campaign by thousands of anti-Thaksin demonstrators who took to the streets clad in yellow shirts.

Their campaign succeeded in December when a court dissolved the government led by Thaksin's brother-in-law.

The parliament then elected Mr Abhisit as prime minister.

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