September 3, 2008 / 12:26 PM / 11 years ago

Shopping, music at focal point of Thai protest

MANILA (Reuters) - Amateur musicians sang Thai folk songs and impromptu stalls did a roaring trade in knick-knacks and T-shirts as a carnival atmosphere prevailed on Wednesday at the site of protests against the embattled prime minister.

An anti-government protestor rallies at the Government House in Bangkok August 31, 2008. REUTERS/Kham

Thousands of protesters have barricaded themselves in the compound of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej for the past nine days to force him to quit.

It was tense there on Tuesday after one person was killed and 45 were injured in a clash nearby with pro-government activists, but the imposition of emergency rule later in the day giving the army powers to intervene appears to have cut tensions dramatically.

The army chief said he will not use force to evict the protesters and opposition activists say troops are more likely to be neutral in their stand-off with the government than the police.

“It will be stressful if we sit in the protest all the time. Coming to shop here is relaxing,” said one of the protesters, taking in the stalls that have sprung up on a street leading to Government House.

T-shirts, toys, slippers bearing the face of former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra, much disliked by the protesters, and his wife were all on sale. Some shops were offering tattoos of the national flag and massages.

“It is tiring to sit for a long time or walking long distances, so they come to have a massage,” said masseuse Chorpiporn Pattanasupong.

Some stalls offered free food and popsicles, providing a temporary but welcome respite from the muggy heat.

A stall selling yellow T-shirts was popular, as many protesters wear them to show respect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej. In Thai tradition, yellow is the color of Monday, the day of the week on which the 80-year-old monarch was born.

“I’ve stayed in the protest here for too long, my money is running out. So I have find something to sell,” said 25-year-old Uma Sungkhao, who was selling yellow T-shirts and headbands.

The previously manicured lawns of Government House, which has hosted dignitaries like U.S. President George W. Bush, were covered with metal strips and wooden slats to allow people to walk through the mud.

On the stage, amateur musicians took over when there was a break from political pep-talks. One hit, played to the accompaniment of a guitar, a keyboard and drums, was a popular Thai folk song with the lyrics changed to mock Samak.

The opposition People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) accuses Samak of being an illegitimate proxy of Thaksin, now living in exile in London after skipping bail on graft charges last month.

The PAD also paints itself as a guardian of King Bhumibol Adulyadej against a supposed Thaksin bid to turn Thailand into a republic, a charge denied by both Thaksin and the government.

Additional reporting by Adrees Latif; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

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