The Thai police withdrew from a protest area in Bangkok late on Friday to avoid further confrontations with anti-government demonstrators. Meanwhile, the protests have spread to other provinces. Three airports in the south, including in Phuket, Thailand’s popular resort, have closed down, stranding thousands of tourists. Earlier on Friday the railway union went on strike, stopping most rail traffic in the country.
Protesters at Bangkok's Government House
Despite promises to keep the peace, trouble flared up on Friday when the police, acting on an initial court order obtained by Prime Minister Samak to evacuate the government compound, sought to enter it.
Several people were injured, according to Buranaj Samutharak, the spokesman for the opposition Democrat Party, who went to the compound soon after the clashes occurred with the party leader, Abhisit Vejjajiv.
“There were incidents where people were injured and were denied treatment because ambulances were not allowed access to the site where the violence occurred. We actually had to call in ambulances in ourselves.”
Burnanaj said those hurt had suffered head injuries from baton blows but reports said that none of the injuries were serious.
No visible violence
Sunai Pasuk, a representative from the US-based rights body, Human Rights Watch, witnessed the police moving into the compound: “What I saw was riot police and border patrol police armed with batons and shields moving into the back of Government House, trying to clear protestors from the compound. From where I stood there was no violence.”
But he could not see everything Sunai said. The compound, which is bordered by three roads and several access points, is a sprawling largely lawn area with the main administrative buildings set back at the perimeter.
Even if the protest crowds were dispersed, Sunai said the “situation would remain highly volatile. What will be the resistance from the PAD if the police try to move in again? A political crisis like this will not end with one crackdown or raid. There will be an aftermath -- a long-standing confrontation between the two sides now that the State Enterprise Unions are going to join the PAD as well.”
A political crisis
“This is, of course, a political crisis,” explained Panitan Wattanayagorn, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. “Even if they arrest and disperse some of the protestors many expect the protestors to regroup. There will be even more demonstrations -- not only in Bangkok.”
A campaign of civil disobedience began earlier this week when protestors stormed a state-run television station. On Friday, state enterprise unions said they would back the PAD with strike calls in key utilities.
Stoppages by railway workers halted most national train services. There were also some attempts to prevent access to key provincial airports.
The protestors consider Samak, who was elected in December last year, a nominee for former leader Thaksin Shinawatra who fled to Britain during a key court trial over corruption charges, claiming the judiciary was biased against him.
Nevertheless, Thaksin remains a popular figure among the urban poor and rural Thai communities.
Recent surveys of the urban middle class show that many are now overwhelmingly against the latest anti-government protests, which are getting out of hand in their opinion.
The urban middle class strongly backed the 2006 coup against Thaksin.