M. Continuo

Thai police confront protesters in PM's compound

By Chalathip Thirasoonthrakul and Ed Cropley

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai riot police scuffled withdemonstrators barricaded inside the prime minister's compoundon Friday as they delivered an eviction order against the groupseeking to oust the government.

Armed with batons and shields, police posted the courtorder on lampposts and the iron gates of the compound, scene ofa four-day occupation by the People's Alliance for Democracy(PAD) that has sparked fears of major violence and rattledinvestors.

Police briefly detained at least 15 protesters and took uppositions around the PAD-controlled area, but they did not moveto evict the 4,000-strong crowd inside.

Police spokesman Surapol Thuanthong told reporters theyonly intended to help court officials deliver the evictionorder.

"We are trying to deal with the protesters as gently aspossible. We are persuading them to leave the compound and willnot do anything to those who follow the court order," he said.

The PAD, whose 2005 protests against then Prime MinisterThaksin Shinawatra contributed to his removal in a coup a yearlater, urged more supporters to gather at the compound untilthe current elected administration fell.

"Move in and circle around me. We can't let them seize ourstage too easily," retired general and PAD leader ChamlongSrimuang told the cheering crowd from atop the rockconcert-like like platform that now sits on the PrimeMinister's front lawn.

Nine PAD leaders have been charged with insurrection, acrime that can carry the death penalty, after violent raids ongovernment offices and a state TV station on Monday, which somenewspapers criticised for going too far.

The motley group of businessmen, academics and activistslaunched the street campaign on May 25, accusing Samak'scoalition government of being an illegitimate proxy of Thaksin,now in exile in London.

The PAD also proclaims itself to be a defender of reveredKing Bhumibol Adulyadej against a supposed Thaksin plan to turnThailand into a republic -- a charge vehemently denied by bothThaksin and the government.

SHARES TURN LOWER

The group have barricaded themselves in the 11-acrecompound behind razor wire and car tyres, with sentries armedwith bars and golf clubs and a mix of gasoline and shampoopoured across the road, turning it into an ice-rink.

At the barricades, PAD supporters held aloft pictures ofKing Bhumibol, shouting "We love the King. We love Thailand".Inside the compound, thousands sat on plastic sheeting,clapping and cheering speeches by the group's leaders.

Thailand's stock market turned lower after the riot policemoved in, losing 1 percent by mid-afternoon on a day when mostregional bourses were higher.

Thai shares have fallen 23 percent since the streetcampaign began in May amid fears of everything from policyparalysis at a time of stuttering economic growth to bloodshedon the streets.

Analysts said the standoff was likely to drag on as thegovernment was clearly avoiding a violent confrontation thatcould prompt the military to intervene.

Army commanders have pledged to stay in their barracks fornow, but Samak faced new pressure as protesters blockaded twoairports in the south and state rail workers began a strikethat halted 15 percent of services nationwide, a spokesmansaid.

"They have sat down to stop vehicles moving in and out ofthe Phuket airport," Lieutenant General Tani Twidsi, head ofthe southern police, told Reuters by telephone.

(Writing by Darren Schuettler; Editing by Alan Raybould andAlex Richardson)

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