August 26, 2008 / 12:42 AM / in 10 years

UPDATE 9-Thousands of protesters besiege Thai PM's offices

(Adds prime minister’s news conference, paragraphs 3-4)

By Nopporn Wong-Anan

BANGKOK, Aug 26 (Reuters) - Thousands of royalist protesters stormed the compound of Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, a TV station and several ministries on Tuesday in a coordinated bid to unseat his elected seven-month-old coalition government.

Samak urged the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) to pack up and go home, accusing them of breaking the law after three months of hitherto peaceful demonstrations in central Bangkok.

“They want bloodshed in the country. They want the military to come out and stage a coup again,” he told foreign journalists at army headquarters, where he held a weekly cabinet meeting after protesters blockaded his Government House offices.

“We don’t count by days. We count by hours. We think by tomorrow it will be finished,” he said.

He made no mention of any need to impose emergency rule, but national police spokesman Surapol Thuanthong said police would seek court approval on Wednesday to arrest the PAD leaders after they ignored an order to leave by 6 p.m. (1100 GMT).

Samak said 85 people had been arrested so far in the protests led by the PAD, which accuses him of being an illegitimate proxy of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra and seeking to turn Thailand into a republic, which Samak denies.

“I won’t yield. My cabinet won’t yield. The military and the police won’t yield,” the firebrand leader earlier told reporters.

The stock market fell as much as 2.5 percent amid fears of violence. It has shed nearly 23 percent since the PAD, a group of monarchist businessmen and academics, launched its campaign to unseat the government on May 25.

The baht eased to around 34.25 against the dollar, its weakest since November, from a 34.09 close on Monday.

PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul, speaking to several thousand supporters on the Government House lawn, vowed to stay until the government fell.

“I won’t leave until there is a political change. If you want me to leave, you will have to kill me and take my body out of here,” he said to thunderous applause from demonstrators waving Thai flags and yellow banners representing the monarchy.

NO COUP, SAYS ARMY CHIEF

Earlier, thousands of protesters stormed state broadcaster NBT and parts of the ministries of finance, agriculture and transport, as well as briefly the Bangkok police headquarters.

They later abandoned those sites to reinforce the main protest at Government House amid fears that any violence could trigger a military coup to restore order less than two years after the army removed Thaksin.

The army denied a putsch was imminent, saying police could handle the protests.

“The army will not launch a coup. The people can be assured,” army head Anupong Paochinda told Channel 3 television. “This is the police’s job.”

The latest disruption to the government at a time of stuttering growth and decade-high inflation was the last thing the economy needed, analysts said.

“This government is in office, but not in power,” said Nick Bibby of Barclays Capital in Singapore. “We need to have greater clarity that this government is going to be around next year.”

Although the possibility remains of a violent response by Samak, who was instrumental in a bloody military crackdown on left-wing students in 1976, analysts said that he may yet bore the PAD into submission if he keeps his cool.

“As long as the government is restrained in its response, sticking to the law, not overreacting, and shying away from physical, violent enforcement of the law, it has the upper hand,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. (Additional reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak and Ed Cropley) (Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Paul Tait)

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