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Thai 'Red Shirts' Storm Parliament Building བོད་སྐད།

  • Ron Corben

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Anti-government protesters surrounded the Thai Parliament building and forced a cabinet meeting to break up.

Hundreds of protesters surrounded and briefly entered the nation's parliament building Wednesday. Some members of parliament and staff had to climb walls to escape, while senior leaders were evacuated by helicopter.

The protesters, led by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, want Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to step down and call elections within 15 days. The prime minister has refused to do so, although he has offered to call elections in nine months.

UDD spokesman Sean Boonpracong says the month-long protests will continue, going through the Thai New Year or Songkran holiday next week.

"We'll stay as long as it takes - we're going to go through the Songkran celebrations. And we have the upper hand now so we are going to stay," he said.

The protesters, who wear red shirts, largely support former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a coup in 2006. He fled the country in 2008 to avoid a jail sentence for corruption.

The morning pressure on the government followed an unsuccessful attempt Tuesday to force the UDD to move from a prime commercial area of Bangkok.

Hundreds of police and military personnel were deployed but the army's leader said force would not be used to disperse the protesters.

The rallies at the site began Saturday, forcing hundreds of shops and restaurants to close in the popular tourist area.

Sunai Pasuk, a representative for Human Rights Watch, says the location makes it difficult for security forces to move against the protesters.

"It's very difficult if the government is thinking of dispersal of the Red Shirts using the internal security act to vacate the protester[s] from this business community because there'll be severe collateral damage to the property as well as to the life of the protester[s] as well as those who live in the neighborhood," said Sunai.

In the 1970's and in 1992, the Thai military moved led bloody crackdowns against demonstrators. But the government has repeatedly said it wants to avoid violence, although it has issued arrest warrants for 10 UDD leaders.

On Wednesday Mr. Abhisit canceled a trip to the United States next week to attend a summit on nuclear power because of the demonstrations.