UPDATE 8-Thai protests hit police HQ, disrupt airports

Fri Aug 29, 2008 11:46am EDT

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(For a chronology of the unrest, click on [ID:nBKK179147]) (Adds injured protesters, analyst)

By Pracha Hariraksapitak

BANGKOK Aug 29 (Reuters) - Protesters trying to overthrow Thailand's government attacked Bangkok's police headquarters on Friday as demonstrations against Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej spread from the capital, disrupting air and rail services.

Some 30 people were injured after police repelled the 2,000-strong crowd on a fourth day of protests that have raised fears of major violence and military intervention less than two years after a coup in September 2006.

TV footage showed teargas canisters exploding among the protesters, but police denied using them, saying they had only fired rubber bullets.

Protesters also invaded runways or blocked roads at three southern airports, including the tourist island of Phuket, leaving scores of passengers stranded as flights were suspended.

Striking rail workers halted 30 percent of services nationwide, and unionised airline and port workers were urged by their leaders to take sick leave.

In Bangkok, where protesters have occupied the prime minister's compound since Tuesday, some of Samak's advisers pushed him to impose emergency rule, two government sources said.

But Samak, who leads a shaky coalition government elected in December, declined to get tough with the protesters ahead of a royal event on Saturday.

"I have several tools at my disposal, but I am not using any of them because I want to keep things calm," he told reporters after meeting top military and police officers.

"I will not quit. If you want me out, do it by law, not by force. This is embarrassing in front of the world," Samak said.

Imposing a state of emergency would allow Samak to deploy soldiers to disperse the protesters, although army chief Anupong Paochinda said the situation did not warrant it.

"A coup would not solve anything. It will hurt the country's image and worsen the country's situation," he said, nearly two years after the coup that removed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra but failed to heal the divisions in Thai society.

Chulalongkorn University analyst Sompop Manarungsan said Samak had few options but to resign or call a snap election.

"If he doesn't quit over the next two days, it is very likely that we will see a bloodbath," Sompop told Reuters.

"JUDGMENT DAY"

The protests are led by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), a motley group of businessmen, academics and activists who accuse Samak of being an illegitimate proxy of Thaksin, now in exile in London. Samak denies the accusation.

The PAD proclaims itself to be a defender of revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej against a supposed Thaksin plan to turn Thailand into a republic -- a charge vehemently denied by both Thaksin and the government.

Thai shares have fallen 23 percent since the PAD's street campaign began in May amid fears of policy paralysis at a time of stuttering economic growth and soaring inflation.

The PAD assault on police headquarters came hours after riot officers tried to deliver an eviction order and clashed with demonstrators inside the prime minister's compound.

"We are trying to deal with the protesters as gently as possible," police spokesman Surapol Thuanthong told reporters.

The Civil Court later said it had retracted its eviction order while the PAD appealed against the ruling.

The protesters have barricaded themselves in the 11-acre compound behind razor wire and car tyres. Sentries armed with bars and golf clubs poured a mixture of gasoline and shampoo across the road, turning it into an ice-rink.

"Today is the Judgment Day. It is the People's Revolution and we must win," said PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul, one of nine protest leaders charged with insurrection after violent raids on government offices and a state TV station on Monday. (For more on the crisis, click on [nBKK69595]) (Additional reporting by Nopporn Wong-Anan; Writing by Darren Schuettler; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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