Thai protesters dig in

Kamonwan Sukehow has braved 13 days and nights of heat, monsoon rains, a freak hailstorm and armies of mosquitoes while camped on the steps of Thailand’s Government House in a campaign to force the seven-month-old government from power.

Ms Kamonwan, a 51-year-old grandmother, says she and other members of the People’s Alliance for Democracy will not leave their post in front of an Italianate building normally used for diplomatic receptions until they have driven out the elected administration of Samak Sundaravej, the prime minister.

Aside from being corrupt, she says the current government is disrespectful to King Bhumibol Adulyadej – an unforgivable sin in a country where the monarch is revered as a semi-deity who is above criticism or even discussion.

“For better politics, we can do anything,” Ms Kam-onwan said, wearing trousers that she said she had not changed in seven days and a bright yellow “Save the Country” headband. “It’s worth fighting for the king. We love him very much and we want to protect him.”

Since August 26, Ms Kamonwan and thousands of other PAD supporters have braved squalid living conditions and threats of violence as they demand the resignation of Mr Samak’s administration, which is packed with loyalists of Thaksin Shinawatra, the controversial former prime minister ousted in a military coup in September 2006.

In their invective, PAD leaders, who spearheaded the massive protests that preceded the coup against Mr Thaksin, say Mr Samak, a 73-year-old veteran conservative, must go because he is corrupt and trying to amend the post-coup, military-backed constitution to clear Mr Thaksin of abuse of power charges.

But for many of the protesters, their passionate determination to see the government go – and their willingness to endure hardship to achieve that – stems from more visceral emotion: a belief that Mr Thaksin, and his loyalists in government, pose a threat to Thailand’s influential monarchy.

“The Thai people think the king is our father,” said Somphol Sangrathat na Ayudhya, a 70-year-old, retired mechanical engineer, who has been part of the occupation since it began. “But Thaksin had his priority to topple the monarchy. Most Thai people know that.”

Pimpawan Chuangurai, a 52-year-old English teacher from the coastal town of Hua Hin, where King Bhumibol spends most of his time in a palace known as “Far from Worry”, says: “Thaksin is trying to bring down the king. He wants to change our rules. He wants to be the president.”

Ever since he was ousted, Mr Thaksin, a billionaire telecommunications mogul before he entered politics, has repeatedly and publicly professed his loyalty to the Thai monarchy in an attempt to quell rumours in Bangkok that he harboured republican leanings.

But neither Mr Thaksin’s protestations nor his exile in the UK appear to have calmed PAD members. Many believe he is still pulling the government’s strings from his smart London home.

Ms Kamonwan cites the government’s failure to shut down websites considered defamatory of the monarchy – or sufficiently prosecute and punish those accused of lese-majesty – as evidence of its disloyalty to the monarch. That is why, she says, she has been willing to defy a state of emergency and its ban on political gatherings.

“We don’t want any violence,” she said. “We have empty hands. But if something happens, like if the officials try to raid us, we will try as best we can to push them back.”

Still, many of the protesters, which include plenty of elderly women, are anxious about the potential for confrontation with authorities or a pro-government mob, a fear that robs them of sleep and has created a sense of inevitability about violence.

“We heard the enemy will attack us,” Ms Pimpawan says. “From our hearts, whatever we can do, we will do. Even if we die.”

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