Thai protest halts premier's speech
It was a rocky start for the new prime minister as an exiled leader's supporters demanded elections now.
BANGKOK, Thailand - Thailand's new prime minister was forced to postpone his first policy speech yesterday after thousands of demonstrators loyal to exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra ringed parliament demanding immediate elections.
The demonstrators vowed to stay until their demands are met and dared lawmakers to pass through their ranks to deliver a mandated speech outlining the new government's key policies.
If lawmakers "want to go in, they have to walk through us, including the prime minister," one of the protest leaders, Chatuporn Prompan, said outside the parliament compound where demonstrators spent the night.
The standoff involving thousands of protesters comes less than a month after the last government was forced from office following protests that culminated in the eight-day seizure of Bangkok's two main airports. The earlier protesters had been part of an anti-Thaksin alliance.
The current protest group - which calls itself the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship - is an eclectic mix of Thaksin loyalists, farmers from the countryside, and laborers from the cities including the capital of Bangkok.
They say they will stay at parliament until the government calls a snap election.
Thaksin, once one of Thailand's richest men, was ousted in a 2006 coup and remains in self-imposed exile.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, fearing clashes, announced that his government would postpone its policy address until today, but said it could be delivered as late as tomorrow - a national holiday in the country.
"We will keep negotiating and mediating," Abhisit told supporters. "I beg everyone, including all the lawmakers and officials, to dedicate our holiday for the country in order to move our country forward."
The third prime minister in four months, Abhisit was appointed in what many hoped would be the end of months of turbulent, sometimes violent, protests. His party had been in the opposition since 2001.
His speech is expected to include details of an $8.6 billion spending plan that is meant to jump-start the country's economy.
Thailand's nearly moribund tourism industry and other economic sectors have been hit hard by the successive rounds of protests.