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Page last updated at 10:13 GMT, Friday, 10 October 2008 11:13 UK

Bangkok protest leaders surrender

Sondhi Limthongkul
PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul was among those who surrendered

Leaders of the long-running street protests trying to bring down the Thai government have surrendered to police.

They were freed on the guarantee of senators in lieu of bail, after treason charges against them were dropped.

They still face other charges of inciting arrest and illegal assembly which could see them sent to jail.

Protesters continue to occupy the grounds of a government complex after clashes with police on Tuesday left at least two dead and hundreds injured.

The seven main protest leaders with outstanding arrest warrants entered a police station near their protest camp earlier on Friday.

They included senior People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) leader Sondhi Limthongkul, PAD spokesman Suriyasai Katasila, social activist Pibhop Dhongchai and Somsak Kosaisuk, a union leader.

Two other top leaders - Chamlong Srimuang and Chaiwat Sinsuwong - were arrested last week but released on Thursday. They were greeted with rapturous cheers on their return to the protest camp.

The nine protest leaders had initially been charged with insurrection, but negotiations led to the dropping of these charges on Thursday.

The remaining charges could still result in prison sentences of up to seven years.

Negotiated peace?

Analysts are not confident that the latest legal moves offer a way out of the political instability.

near Government House in Bangkok on Friday
For now, the situation is calm, but a resolution to the crisis remains elusive

The injuries suffered by protesters under a police onslaught of teargas earlier this week have shifted sympathy towards the protest movement, analysts say.

However police, journalists and other witnesses say the protesters carried guns, iron bars, machetes, slingshots, firecrackers and bottles in their attacks on the police, 20 of whom were seriously wounded.

Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, who resigned after the violence, has told the Bangkok Post that he believes a military coup is the only way out of the impasse.

The newspaper's editorial points out the failure of the recent military government to heal divisions, and calls for greater efforts to preserve democracy.

Thaksin redux

PAD protesters want an end to any government they see as linked to the former elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who now lives in exile in Britain.

In recent months the judiciary has laid several corruption charges against Mr Thaksin and his wife Pojaman. It has also deposed Mr Thaksin's ally, former prime minister Samak Sundaravej.

His successor, current Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, is a brother-in-law of Mr Thaksin and so is still distrusted by the protesters.

The PAD argues that the largely rural base of support for Mr Thaksin is uneducated and says the voting system should be changed from one-man one-vote to a more controllable system of professional constituencies.

The BBC's Jonathan Head says all sides in this dispute acknowledge that dissolving parliament is no solution as the governing party would probably still win a general election on the back of its rural support.

In times past, King Bhumibol Adulyadej has used his immense moral authority to settle such crises; but at 80 years old he no longer appears willing to involve himself in political disputes.

No-one else has yet emerged who seems capable of bridging the yawning gulf that now divides Thai society, our correspondent says.



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