Thai protests hit police HQ and disrupt airports

By Pracha Hariraksapitak

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Protesters trying to overthrowThailand's government attacked Bangkok's police headquarters onFriday as demonstrations against Prime Minister SamakSundaravej spread from the capital, disrupting air and railservices.

Police fired what appeared to be teargas at the2,000-strong crowd, part of escalating protests that haveraised fears of major violence and military intervention lessthan two years after a coup in September 2006.

Protesters also forced airports to close in the touristdestinations of Phuket and Krabi and the southern town of HatYai, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded.

Striking rail workers halted 30 percent of servicesnationwide, and unionised airline and port workers were urgedby their leaders to take sick leave.

In Bangkok, where protesters have occupied the primeminister's compound since Tuesday, some of Samak's adviserspushed him to impose emergency rule, two government sourcessaid.

"It has been proposed as an option to him," said onesource, who declined to be named.

But Samak, who leads a coalition government elected inDecember, declined to get tough with the People's Alliance forDemocracy (PAD), which began its protest campaign on May 25.

"I have several tools at my disposal, but I am not usingany of them because I want to keep things calm," he toldreporters after meeting top military and police officers.

"I will not quit. If you want me out, do it by law, not byforce. This is embarrassing in front of the world," Samak said.

Imposing a state of emergency would allow the government todeploy soldiers to disperse the protesters, although army chiefAnupong Paochinda said the situation did not warrant it.

"A coup would not solve anything. It will hurt thecountry's image and worsen the country's situation," he said,nearly two years after the coup that removed Prime MinisterThaksin Shinawatra but failed to heal the divisions in Thaisociety.

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.


The PAD assault on police headquarters came hours afterriot officers tried to deliver an eviction order and clashedwith demonstrators barricaded inside the PM's compound.

"We are trying to deal with the protesters as gently aspossible," police spokesman Surapol Thuanthong told reporters.

After the scuffles, the Civil Court said it had retractedits eviction order while the PAD appealed against the ruling.

The PAD, a motley group of businessmen, academics andactivists whose 2005 protests against Thaksin contributed tothe coup against him, accuses Samak of being an illegitimateproxy of Thaksin, now in exile in London. Samak denies theaccusation.

"Today is the Judgment Day. It is the People's Revolutionand we must win," said PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul afterviolent raids on government offices and a state TV station onMonday.

Sondhi is one of nine PAD leaders charged withinsurrection, a crime that can carry the death penalty.

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.

The protesters have barricaded themselves in the 11-acrecompound behind razor wire and car tyres. Sentries armed withbars and golf clubs poured a mixture of gasoline and shampooacross 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.

(For more on the crisis, click on)

(Additional reporting by Nopporn Wong-Anan; Writing byDarren Schuettler; Editing by Alan Raybould and Paul Tait)