By AMBIKA AHUJA / AP WRITER
BANGKOK — Thailand's Cabinet canceled its weekly meeting Tuesday, easing fears of a confrontation with thousands of protesters who have ringed the seat of government demanding the prime minister resign.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has avoided his office at the Government House for six consecutive days in the largest protests since his administration arrived in December.
The demonstrators, allied with deposed leader Thaksin Shinawatra, say Abhisit's government came to power through illegal means and should step down. Abhisit has rejected their calls.
"The situation is not conducive to holding a meeting today," said Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thuaksuban after meeting with senior security officials. "We do not want violence. We do not want a confrontation."
On the streets outside Government House, protesters danced to folk music blaring from loudspeakers. Protest leaders took turns on stage to make fiery political speeches.
"It is clear that we have managed to paralyze this illegitimate government," protest leader Nattawut Sai-kua told the crowd. "If they can't even hold a meeting, how can they lead the country? It's time to return the power to the people!"
Demonstrators set up barbed wire and tire barricades on the streets outside Government House, in an apparent attempt to prevent the Cabinet from entering the compound.
The protests, which began Thursday, are the latest episode in Thailand's long-running political turmoil. Last year, street rallies were dominated by Thaksin's political opponents, who besieged Government House for three months and shuttered Bangkok's two main airports for a week. They were committed to driving Thaksin's allies from power and ceased their demonstrations only after two prime ministers were removed by the courts.
The pro-Thaksin movement appeared to gain momentum outside the capital on Monday, with several hundred people rallying in at least 10 provinces in the north and northeast of Thailand, which remain the former prime minister's strongholds. They were seemingly responding to Thaksin's weekend call for nationwide protests. Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup, is in exile, but has been addressing the Bangkok protests via video link.
Abhisit said last week he would enter Government House on Monday. But he later said he would not be going to his office before traveling to London later Tuesday for the G-20 summit. He is representing Southeast Asian countries.
The latest demonstrations are led by an eclectic mix of Thaksin loyalists, rural farmers and laborers.
They have vowed to use the same people-power method as their rivals to oust Abhisit, who was named prime minister by Parliament after the two Thaksin-allied governments were removed by court decisions. The protesters contend the courts were biased.
They have insisted they would not break into government offices as their rivals had done.
Thaksin fled into exile last year before a court convicted him in absentia of violating a conflict of interest law. The tycoon-turned-politician remains popular with the poor rural majority that benefited from his populist policies.