Thai protesters seize state TV, surround govt buildings
Thousands of protesters on Tuesday stepped up their campaign to force Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej from office, seizing a state-run television station and surrounding the country's seat of government.
The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which has been demonstrating here since May, claim Samak is running Thailand on behalf of ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and barred from holding office.
Samak, who was elected in December and formed a coalition government in February, told the nation Monday that the protests would not force him out of office, and accused the PAD of seeking to destroy Thailand's economy.
Thailand's powerful army chief urged calm, insisting the military would not overthrow the government to quell the escalating protests.
"The military will not stage a coup d'etat. The public must not panic and must carry on their daily lives. The army will not get involved in politics," General Anupong Paojinda told reporters.
Protesters marched before dawn on Government House and the National Broadcasting Service of Thailand (NBT) office, forcing the station off the air after storming the premises for a second time.
"Now we have completely taken over NBT and I want more people to join them," PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul told demonstrators at another location in the Thai capital.
"Today is judgement day. I am ready if they want to arrest me. If we have to go to police headquarters this time we will not simply stay outside. We will get inside there," he told the cheering crowds.
Deputy government spokesman Nuttawut Saikua told AFP: "PAD have seized NBT to cut off the government communication. Now up to 3,000 people have occupied NBT and they plan to do their own broadcast."
A first attempt to take over the station ended with the arrests of 80 protesters. Police charged them with trespassing and seized a handgun, slingshots and golf clubs.
"They cannot claim their right to rally under the constitution because armed protesters intruded into a state office," said General Jongrak Juntanont, deputy national police chief.
But upon the second attempt, NBT briefly showed images of protesters breaking down a barrier at their Bangkok office before blacking out and broadcasting pre-recorded footage.
Elsewhere, thousands of protesters surrounded Government House, with PAD demonstrators using trucks to block all entrances.
A government official who did not wished to be named told AFP that only about 10 percent of staff at Government House had made it to work.
"As of now the government has stopped functioning," he said.
Thousands more protesters, waving royal and national flags, then made their way to the transport and finance ministries, vowing to blockade all major government buildings.
Police refused to say how many officers were deployed to maintain order, but a spokesman said they were planning to send more forces onto the streets.
Nuttawut, the deputy government spokesman, said earlier they would not yield to the protesters and would proceed with a weekly cabinet meeting.
"As of now the prime minister has not made any change, therefore I still think that the cabinet meeting will go ahead," Nuttawut said.
Asked if the government planned to declare emergency rule, he replied: "Wait for the prime minister. So far there is no special instruction."
One minister told AFP that the meeting would likely be moved to to a military command office on the northern outskirts of Bangkok.
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