By AMBIKA AHUJA / AP WRITER
BANGKOK — Thailand's prime minister avoided his office Monday as thousands of protesters calling for his resignation and allied with deposed leader Thaksin Shinawatra surrounded the seat of government for a fifth day.
Protesters ignored police warnings to stop blocking entrances to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's office, where they have gathered since Thursday in the largest protests since his administration arrived in December.
The demonstrators say Abhisit's government came to power through illegal means and should step down. Abhisit has rejected their calls.
Abhisit said last week he would enter his office at Government House on Monday. But he revised the plan Monday morning, saying the situation remained under control, but he would not be going to his office before traveling to London on Tuesday for the G-20 summit.
"I have not received any report of anything abnormal," he told reporters at Parliament before a meeting at the United Nation's regional headquarters, which is near Government House.
Hundreds of protesters staged a loud but peaceful protest outside the UN office amid tight security.
The protests are the latest episode in Thailand's long-running political turmoil, which last year was dominated by months of demonstrations by Thaksin's political opponents, who besieged Government House and shuttered Bangkok's two main airports for a week.
Outside Government House, police shouted warnings through loudspeakers: "If you don't disperse, we will use crowd control measures ranging from soft measures to harsh measures."
But the warnings emboldened thousands of protesters gathered in the midday heat, as they listened to speakers on a makeshift stage.
"Please prepare yourselves for possible crackdown," one protest leader, Nattawut Sai-kua, told the crowd. "But you have nothing to fear. Thousands more will join us if the police use violence."
Police Lt-Gen Worapong Chiewpreecha said security officials have not been ordered to disperse the crowd. Abhisit has repeatedly said the government will not use violence.
The latest protests have been organized by demonstrators commonly known as the "red shirts" because of their attire, which contrasts with the yellow shirts worn by their rivals, who led last year's protests. The group is an eclectic mix of Thaksin loyalists, rural farmers and laborers.
On Sunday, Abhisit said authorities are trying to block the call-ins by Thaksin, who has become the main attraction at the rallies, speaking via video link on an almost nightly basis from abroad. He has called for supporters to stage nationwide protests.
Thaksin was deposed by a 2006 coup for corruption and abuse of power. He 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.
The tycoon-turned-politician remains popular with the poor rural majority that benefited from his populist policies and has managed to address supporters by telephone or video link from Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and most recently Africa, aides said.
"I call on you to rise up across the country," Thaksin told about 30,000 protesters Saturday night.
"You don't need to come to Bangkok, but rally in peace throughout the country to say that we cherish democracy," said Thaksin, his image on a giant screen outside Government House, which he occupied for six years as prime minister.
Thitinan Pongsidhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, said Thaksin's messages show he is determined to take his political battle to a new level.
"In terms of rallying the troops, it was a war cry," Thitinan said. "Despite the passage of time and distance, the support Thaksin has in the countryside is still potent. Last night he activated that support."
At another protest Friday night, Thaksin dropped what Thai media have called a "bombshell." He accused the chief adviser to King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the country's revered constitutional monarch, of being a mastermind of the 2006 coup and undermining Thai democracy.
The comments shocked Thailand, where the king's Privy Council is considered by many an extension of the king himself, who is widely adored and protected from reproach by strict laws.
Privy Council head Prem Tinsulanonda has not publicly responded to the allegations, which other members of the council have denied.