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Thai protesters break into premiers compound
Thailand Political 5631378
Protestors scale the fence outside Thailand's Government House Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2008, in Bangkok, Thailand. Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, his own offices besieged by thousands of demonstrators, called Tuesday for people to end protests that aimed to topple him from power. - photo by Associated Press
    BANGKOK, Thailand — Thousands of anti-government demonstrators pushed into the Thai prime minister’s office compound and rallied outside several ministries Tuesday, and a violent masked mob from the same protest group forced a state-run TV station off the air.
    The right-wing People’s Alliance for Democracy said its actions Tuesday constituted a ‘‘final showdown’’ in its efforts to oust the elected government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej. The group has been protesting sporadically across the capital, Bangkok, since May to demand the government’s resignation.
    ‘‘The people’s army is victorious over the government,’’ protest leader Sondhi Limthongkul told protesters from a stage assembled inside the Government House compound. ‘‘We are now in Government House and won’t move until the government resigns.’’
    The protesters remained peaceful and did not attempt to enter any government offices. Police monitored the rally but did not intervene.
    Speaking less than an hour after Government House was stormed, Samak nevertheless refused to declare a state of emergency.
    ‘‘The government is not willing to declare a state of emergency because it will damage the atmosphere,’’ Samak said, without elaborating.
    The prime minister said the protesters were breaking the law and that they must leave by 6 p.m., but the deadline passed without any reported effort to oust them. He said security personnel would not use force against the occupiers but that he was preparing legal charges against them.
    Tuesday’s actions by the alliance, which aligns itself with conservative factions of the monarchy and the military, began with a violent, pre-dawn raid by about 80 masked alliance members on the main studios of the government-run National Broadcasting Services of Thailand, known as NBT. The protesters claim the station is a political mouthpiece for the government.
    NBT footage of the incursion showed the attackers, armed with clubs and iron rods, herding staff out of the building and smashing property. The invaders prevented the station from broadcasting for about an hour, after which police officers arrested them. Samak said police were holding them pending charges.
    Local television news later showed police displaying knives and at least one gun that they said the attackers brandished during the raid.
    A crowds of protesters later took over the TV station for a second time, at about 8 a.m., pushing down a gate and rushing past police to occupy the offices. The station was again forced off the air but resumed broadcasting within an hour from another location.
    No one has been arrested in the second raid, and the protesters remain on the premises.
    The Thai Journalists Association protested the station’s seizure, describing it as a threat to press freedom and freedom of expression.
    As many as 30,000 protesters rallied outside four government ministries and Government House, according to police spokesman Maj. Gen. Surapol Tuanthong.
    ‘‘We are now controlling most of the key government offices to prevent them from coming to work,’’ Sondhi said. ‘‘Today, we declare a long, long holiday for the government.’’
    Samak moved Tuesday’s weekly Cabinet meeting from Government House to the military’s headquarters elsewhere in Bangkok to avoid the protesters, deputy government spokesman Natawut Saikau said.
    The state’s Thai News Agency, citing local police, reported that provincial branches of the alliance had blocked roads leading to the capital from the south, north and northeast. Police attempted to divert traffic and were not reported to have made any arrests.
    The alliance contends Samak is a proxy for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and is living in self-imposed exile in England.
    Thaksin and his wife skipped bail earlier this month with a string of corruption charges pending against them. The former leader has said he will never get a fair trial in his homeland.
    Before Thaksin’s ouster in a September 2006 military coup, the People’s Alliance for Democracy led months of demonstrations alleging he was corrupt and had abused his power.
    Gen. Anupong Paochinda, the army chief, reassured the public Tuesday that the military was not planning another coup, saying the latest crisis can be solved politically.
    The alliance has accused Samak of trying to amend the constitution to help Thaksin avoid conviction on the corruption charges. They also accuse Samak’s government of failing to aggressively prosecute cases against Thaksin and refusing calls to extradite him from Britain to face justice.
    It has also proposed replacing Thailand’s electoral democracy with a system that would be dominated by appointees from the bureaucracy and the military, on the grounds that the rural majority is not sophisticated enough to choose good public servants.
    The alliance appeared to be a threat to Samak’s six-party coalition earlier this year, but has been steadily losing influence. It has alienated many Bangkok residents by disrupting already bad traffic in the capital.