Page last updated at 09:37 GMT, Sunday, 23 November 2008

Thai protesters in 'final battle'


Protesters and police prepare for the demonstration

Thousands of protesters have gathered in the Thai capital Bangkok for what they call a "final battle" in a six-month campaign to oust the government.

A similar protest in October left two people dead and nearly 500 wounded.

Demonstrators gathered at Government House, where protesters from the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) have set up camp since late August.

They say the government of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat is too close to ousted former PM Thaksin Shinawatra.

"I am confident in the strength of the people. We will definitely go to parliament," said anti-government leader Chamlong Srimuang.

Local media said the march was set to go ahead early on Monday, ahead of a planned parliament meeting.

Troops ready

The last march aimed at preventing a parliament session on 7 October erupted into the worst street violence Bangkok had seen in 16 years, as police fired tear gas and clashed with rowdy PAD protesters.

A spokesman for Mr Somchai said police had been ordered not to use tear gas or weapons this time, but insisted that the parliament meeting would go ahead as planned.

Anti-government rally in Bangkok on 10/10/08
The PAD group launched their anti-government campaign in May

Officials said nearly 2,000 soldiers were on stand-by if the police needed help.

The PAD is calling the march its "final battle" to oust the government, which it blames for a grenade attack last week that killed one person and wounded 23. Another grenade blast near their protest site wounded eight PAD security guards on Saturday.

Mr Somchai has denied the government or its supporters are behind the blasts. Police have made no arrests so far.

As anti-government supporters gathered for the demonstration, police said about 10,000 pro-Thaksin supporters had descended on a Buddhist temple just outside Bangkok to support the government.

Leaders of that gathering said they had no intention of confronting the PAD.

The PAD wants to replace Thailand's one-man, one-vote system with one in which some representatives are chosen by professions and social groups rather than the general electorate.

The new government says it wants to start negotiations with the PAD. But it is also pushing ahead with controversial plans to amend the constitution - a key grievance of the protesters who see it as part of a plan to rehabilitate former PM Thaksin.

Mr Thaksin, Mr Somchai's brother-in-law, was forced from office in a military coup in 2006 and remains in exile overseas.

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