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20,000 Thai protesters surround PM's office

MORE than 20,000 protesters ringed the prime minister's office yesterday, demanding the government resign, deriding its distribution of checks to millions of low-income workers as a payoff.

The demonstration began shortly after the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva began doling out 2,000 baht (US$55) checks to millions of Thais to stimulate an economy battered by the global financial crisis.

The demonstrators, followers of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, say Abhisit's government came to power through illegal means and are demanding a dissolution of Parliament and fresh elections.

"Is he (Abhisit) trying to buy us off?" said a protest leader, Nattawut Sai-kua. "It is not going to work. We will protest until this illegitimate government is gone."

The "red-shirts," as they are commonly known because of their favored color, say Abhisit rose to power through illegal means ?? after courts, backed by the powerful military, removed two previous pro-Thaksin administrations last year.

The court action ended one of Thailand's worst political crises: Months of protests by Thaksin's opponents who brought the government to a virtual standstill and severely damaged the country's vital tourist industry by occupying both the prime minister's office compound and the capital's two airports.

Protesters yesterday said they planned to demonstrate at Government House for at least three days but have promised not to enter the compound. Their earlier protests have been generally peaceful.

As dusk approached, the number of protesters swelled to more than 20,000, said Metropolitan Police Commander Lieutenant General Worapong Chiwpreecha.

He said about 10,000 police and soldiers were deployed for the demonstration, which he did not think would turn violent. "We will use utmost patience," he said. "The government wants the situation to be peaceful so the country can move forward."


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