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"We'll die for King" say defiant Thai protesters

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Protesters trying to topple Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej shrugged off his imposition of a state of emergency on Tuesday, vowing to lay down their lives for King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who they believe is under threat.

A anti-government demonstrator yells at government supporters in front of a large banner with police mug shots of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and wife Potjaman near the Government House in Bangkok early morning on September 2, 2008. REUTERS/Kham

“I can die for my King,” 53-year-old teacher Chantra Lamungtong told Reuters inside the Government House compound that has been occupied by the anti-government and staunchly royalist People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) for the last week.

“I think he is helping us with food and water, but he cannot show his face,” she said.

Regarded as semi-divine by many Thais, the King is officially above politics but has intervened several times in disputes during his six decades on the throne. He has variously favoured military and elected administrations.

The PAD, a group of right-wing businessmen and academics, accuse Samak of being an illegitimate proxy for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a 2006 coup after months of PAD street protests.

However, they gain far more fervent support by painting Thaksin and the government that came to power after December’s election as republicans bent on overthrowing the Chakri dynasty.

Samak and Thaksin have denied the allegation many times, but their protestations go unheard among the PAD faithful, who spend hours listening to speech after speech pumped out by massive sound systems about the threats to the monarchy.

“I love my King and Queen, and Thaksin wants to kill my King and Queen,” said 65-year-old insurance clerk Songphichaya Tansagvron, dressed in a black straw golfing hat and the yellow t-shirt worn by nearly all PAD supporters.

Yellow is the colour of Monday, the day of the week on which the 80-year-old monarch was born.

“The King cannot say anything, but I believe in the hard times he will come to us,” said 40-year-old Suwanchai Jitwiwat, who described himself as self-employed. “I am never scared, because I have come here for my country and my King.”

When riot police confronted the PAD’s razor wire and tyre barricades last week to post a court eviction order, protesters held aloft pictures of the King from his 2006 Golden Jubilee as if it were a religious icon.

They believe no soldier or policeman would be able to strike an image of the monarch, even if ordered to attack. Samak’s declaration of emergency rule after a protester was killed in overnight clashes with the PAD changed none of that emotion.

Pictures of the King are also plastered round the PM’s compound, which has the run-down feel of a Woodstock rock festival, its manicured lawns turned to mud and people urinating into open drains behind makeshift tarpaulin screens.

“There’s no work today for me. This is much bigger. So what if I lose my job, as long as I save my country,” said Prayod Sirilak, 40, an auto parts maker from Chonburi, east of Bangkok.

Chantra, the teacher, also skipped work to travel from the ancient capital, Ayutthaya, 60 miles (100 km) north of Bangkok, to attend the PAD’s “last war” against Samak.

“My class is a little problem. My country is the big problem,” she said.

Editing by Darren Schuettler and David Fox