August 28, 2008 3:00 am
Thai riot police surrounded the seat of government yesterday as top officers sought to negotiate a peaceful end to a siege of the Bangkok compound by protesters trying to topple the administration of Samak Sundaravej, the prime minister.
On the second day of the stand-off, police obtained warrants for the arrest of nine top leaders of the People's Alliance for Democracy, the protest organisers, on charges including inciting arrest and trying to overthrow the government.
Kowit Wattana, interior minister, appealed to the protesters to leave the Government House compound, saying authorities needed to prepare for a ceremony there on Saturday honouring the royal family, which the crown prince is scheduled to attend.
Yellow-clad demonstrators affiliated with the PAD - a diverse coalition of royalists, businessmen and activists united by their loathing of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra - stormed Government House on Tuesday and have vowed to remain there until Mr Samak's coalition resigns.
The PAD sees the administration, which took power after December elections and is packed with Thaksin loyalists, as a proxy for the former leader, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup and this month fled to the UK while facing trial in several criminal cases.
Mr Samak has accused the protesters of trying to provoke another military coup.
Analysts are sceptical the protesters will achieve their aim and Bangkok residents appear turned off by their aggressive tactics. The army chief has vowed troops will not intervene in the crisis.
"The Samak government has the upper hand," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a Chulalongkorn University political scientist.
The stand-off comes amid concern over the slowing economic growth and rising inflation, which hit a 10-year high in July.
The Bank of Thailand yesterday raised its main interest rate by 25 basis points, to 3.75 per cent, tightening policy for the second month in a row, in spite of opposition expressed earlier by Surapong Suebwonglee, finance minister, on concern that higher rates will further affect growth.
The high-profile dispute between Mr Surapong, a close Thaksin ally, and the central bank cooled last week after Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej waded into monetary policy, offering rare public praise for the central bank.
Thailand's two leading English-language newspapers - which supported massive anti-Thaksin protests in 2006 - both attacked the PAD's protests yesterday.
"The PAD's 'last whistle blow' is unjustified, unnecessary, provocative and illegal," the Bangkok Post editorial declared. "If the PAD really wants to bring down the government, they should do it through parliament."
The Nation said: "The PAD's action yesterday was completely uncalled for" and added that the group's motivations "have gone from clear-cut to incomprehensible".
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