BANGKOK, THAILAND: A mob of anti-government protesters pushed their way into the compound housing the offices of Thailand's prime minister on Tuesday (26 Aug), one of a series of actions against state agencies in the capital.
The demonstrators, from the right-wing People's Alliance for Democracy, stopped once they entered the compound at Government House at about 2:30pm and did not attempt to enter the official offices there, footage on Thai TV Channel 9 showed.
Earlier, mobs of alliance protesters took over a state-controlled television station and besieged several ministries in a self-described "final showdown" to try to bring down the elected government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej.
It was the first time in recent years that a large crowd managed to get onto the Government House grounds. The crowd of several thousand appeared peaceful.
Samak was expected to speak about the situation late Tuesday afternoon.
The protests were the latest effort by the alliance to force Samak's government from office. The group contends Samak is a proxy for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and now has gone into self-imposed exile in England.
The protest group led months of demonstrations that ended in Thaksin's ouster by the September 2006 military coup for alleged corruption and abuse of power.
The strategy of the alliance now appears to be to provoke a violent crackdown from the government, with the goal of winning public sympathy and perhaps compelling the army to step in to restore order. The need to preserve order and avoid violent clashes was one of the excuses given by the military for the 2006 coup.
Gen. Anupong Paochinda, the country's powerful army chief, reassured the public that the military would not stage a coup, adding that the latest crisis can be solved politically.
Police on Tuesday were exercising obvious restraint, and there were no reports of them using any force.
Tuesday's actions by the alliance, which aligns itself with conservative factions of the monarchy and the military, began with a pre-dawn raid by about 80 masked members of the group on the main studios of TV Channel 11, operated by the government as National Broadcasting Services of Thailand, or NBT.
Footage of the incursion showed the attackers, armed with clubs and iron rods, herding staff out of the building and destroying some property. The station was prevented from broadcasting until police rounded up the invaders more than an hour later. Police said the attackers also were armed with knives and at least one gun, a .45-caliber pistol.
Crowds of protesters took over the TV station a second time at about 8am, pushing down a gate and rushing past police to occupy the offices. The station was temporarily forced off the air, resuming broadcasting within an hour from a remote location. The protesters claim the station is a political mouthpiece for the government.
The Thai Journalists Association protested the seizure of Channel 11, describing it as a threat to press freedom and freedom of expression.
As many as 30,000 supporters of the alliance carried out protests at about four government ministries and Government House.
In some cases, they were preventing employees from entering, according to a police official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to a reporter.
Samak, whose party won national elections last December, has refused to step aside and insisted as late as Monday that the protests would not affect Tuesday's weekly Cabinet meeting.
But by Tuesday morning, the government said it was moving the meeting from Government House to military headquarters to avoid protesters, deputy government spokesman Natawut Saikau said.
Protest leaders claimed several hundred thousand people were on the streets of Bangkok, but the numbers appeared far smaller. The group has a record of vastly inflating its crowd estimates.
"We are now controlling most of the key government offices to prevent them from coming to work," said Sondhi Limthongkul, a co-leader of the Alliance. "Today, we declare a long, long holiday for the government."
Outside of Bangkok, protesters said they had blocked three main highways leading into the capital.
The group has accused Samak of trying to amend the constitution to help Thaksin avert a string of corruption charges against him. They also have accused the government of failing to aggressively prosecute cases against Thaksin and refusing calls to extradite him to face justice.
It has also proposed replacing the country's electoral democracy with a system that would be dominated by appointees from the bureaucracy and the military, on the grounds that the country's rural majority is not sophisticated enough to choose good public servants.
The alliance appeared to be a threat to Samak's six-party coalition government earlier this year, but had been steadily losing influence. It alienated many Bangkok residents by disrupting already bad traffic in the capital city.
It also has lost its focus since Thaksin _ who returned to Thailand when Samak's government came to power _ went back into exile into England, becoming a fugitive when he missed a court appearance on one of several corruption charges pending against him. Thaksin claimed he could not get a fair trial in his homeland.
The group has hopped from issue to issue to try to rebuild its following. Last month it attacked the government for allegedly giving up Thai territory to Cambodia, and this month it has joined Bangkok residents unhappy over plans to move Parliament to their neighborhood. (By SUTIN WANNABOVORN/ AP)