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Protestors gear up for ASEAN conference

PROTESTERS yesterday called for a mass demonstration in the Thai capital to force the government from power, just days before Asian leaders are to arrive in the kingdom for a key regional summit.

Thousands of protesters have encircled the prime minister's office since March 26 in the biggest challenge to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's three-month-old government. The crowd has dwindled since the first week but usually swells to about 5,000 people at night when supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra gather to hear him address them via video link.

The demonstrations are the latest episode in Thailand's long-running political turmoil. The country has seen months of street protests by supporters and opponents of Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup for alleged corruption and abuse of power.

Protest leader Nattawut Sai-kua urged Thaksin's supporters to attend a rally in Bangkok on Wednesday, two days before ASEAN leaders are to arrive for a summit in the Thai coastal resort town of Pattaya, 100 kilometers south of the capital.

"We want to bring Thailand to the path of democracy and get rid of the aristocracy," Nattawut told the crowd of several thousand gathered yesterday outside the prime minister's office, Government House. "We ask that people from all parts of Thailand travel to Bangkok to join us in the people's revolution."

Protest leaders have accused the country's elite, including the military and judiciary, of interfering in politics.

In addition to calls for Abhisit's government to quit, the protest leaders have demanded that some senior advisers to the country's revered monarch step down.

The call came after Thaksin last week publicly accused the chief adviser to King Bhumibol Adulyadej of being a mastermind of events that led to the coup that ousted him.


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