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Thai protesters remain defiant, vow to fight on

world Updated: Sep 03, 2008 08:38 IST
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"Are you scared?" shout protest leaders to the thousands occupying the prime minister's office compound in the Thai capital.

The crowd responds: "We're not scared!" Angry speeches run all day, castigating the government.

After days of family picnics, the mood in the compound turned more tense Tuesday following an unsuccessful effort by government supporters to rout the protesters from the compound. Clashes left one person dead and dozens injured.

The government reacted by declaring a state of emergency and rumors of a possible raid by police, the military or rival demonstrators swirled around the compound.

Helmet-clad people armed with sticks patrolled the grounds. Some declared they were ready to lay down their lives in the fight to force Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej from office. "Nobody is afraid because we're sure we're going to win," said Charlee Chantadoon, a 43-year-old resort owner from the island of Koh Chang who was helping man one of eight security checkpoints at the site. He and other guards were carrying golf clubs, metal poles and bamboo batons.

Sawat Juntarath, a 34-year-old pub owner who was also serving as a security guard, said "emotions are building" and that he was ready for a fight.

"I have no fear of dying," he said.

Tens of thousands of protesters overran Government House, as the office compound is known, on Aug. 26 and have turned the well-manicured grounds into a muddy, makeshift campground. The several thousand who remain accuse the government of corruption and being a proxy for ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. They want Samak to resign.

Stalls offering free food, water and medicine are scattered through the grounds, and protesters seeking relief from the sun wait in long lines for iced tea or shaved ice covered with syrup. Pictures of Thailand's beloved king and queen are posted above tents, while underfoot, doormats featuring portraits of Thaksin and his wife and the words "Most Wanted" are a popular place for protesters to clean their feet.

Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup and recently fled to Britain to escape an array of corruption charges. The People's Alliance for Democracy, which is behind the current protests, also organized the massive anti-Thaksin demonstrations in 2006 that helped spark the bloodless coup.

Made up mostly of royalists, union activists and urban elites, the group has coalesced around their hatred of Samak.

"Samak is the same as Hitler," said 52-year-old Agkarapol Yam-oum of Bangkok. "Everything he does is corrupt." Other than their call for Samak to step down, their demands are murky. Some simply want a new election, while others want election rules rewritten so the country's rural majority, who form the government's political base, don't have a clear advantage at the polls.

But, for now, they all are keeping Samak squarely in their sights.

"People have the right to show their power when we don't agree with the government," said Thapat Ketchaikosol, an 18-year-old dentistry student at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.