By AMBIKA AHUJA / AP WRITER
BANGKOK — Thousands of demonstrators defied a court order to clear a road they have blocked to the prime minister’s office, vowing Wednesday to continue ringing the compound until the government resigns.
Protesters surrounded the compound of Government House for the seventh straight day in the biggest challenge faced by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s three-month-old government.
The demonstrators, supporters of ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra, say the current administration came to power through illegitimate means. They call on the administration to hold fresh elections.
Abhisit, who is in London to represent Southeast Asian countries at the G-20 summit, has rejected calls to leave office, but his deputy prime minister on Wednesday offered to open talks with Thaksin, who has been addressing the Bangkok protests via video link.
Wednesday’s rally mixed fiery speeches with a carnival-like atmosphere. The demonstrators sang and danced to folk music on the streets during breaks from political speeches blaring from loudspeakers. Free food and iced beverages were provided in the midday heat.
“We are not going anywhere until we win,” protest leader Nattawut Sai-kua told the crowd. “We must return Thailand to the path of democracy through civil disobedience.”
Ignoring the court notices posted on the gates, protesters refused to remove barbed wire and metal barricades at the entrances to the seat of government.
Nattawut said protesters have appealed the Civil Court’s injunction, adding that they would let in government workers and Cabinet members if they arrive on foot. Cabinet members and most government workers have avoided the compound since protests began last Thursday.
In a bid to step up pressure on the government, demonstrators planned to march to the Finance Ministry on Thursday to express their dissatisfaction with the management of the country’s economy, he said. The second-largest economy in Southeast Asia is expected to contract 2.5 percent this year.
Inside the compound of Government House, hundreds of riot police and soldiers armed only with shields and helmets stood guard. Hundreds of others were deployed in the surrounding area. But there were no signs security officials would enforce the order.
“We ask the protesters to follow the court order,” said Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thuaksuban. “But we will not use violence or cause the use of violence which would only plunge the country into chaos.”
Police Lt-Gen Worapong Chiewpreecha said security officials have not been ordered to disperse the crowd, echoing the government’s stance that it will not resort to violent measures to break up the rallies.
They declined to comment on what they would do if peaceful measures fail.
Suthep said he was ready to hold talks with Thaksin in a bid to end the protests, but added the government would not dissolve Parliament and hold fresh elections, or grant amnesty to the former leader. Thaksin and more than a hundred of his allies were banned from politics until 2012 for electoral fraud.
“I am ready to talk to Thaksin, who is the real protest leader, wherever he wants to talk,” Suthep said. “But some of his demands are impossible.”
The occupation mirrors a prolonged demonstration last year, when Thaksin’s opponents besieged Government House demanding the ouster of the previous administration. The latest protesters, however, have not broken into the compound as their rivals did.
The demonstrations are the latest episode in Thailand’s long-running political drama that centers around Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup following demonstrations accusing him of corruption and abuse of power.
However, the former communications tycoon has remained popular among the rural poor, who helped a party allied to Thaksin win new elections in 2007.
Protesters last year besieged the seat of government for three months and then occupied Bangkok’s two main airports, closing them down for a week.
The anti-Thaksin demonstrators ignored court orders to vacate government offices. They ceased their demonstrations only after two consecutive prime ministers were removed by court rulings and Abhisit was named prime minister by Parliament.
Thaksin’s supporters said the courts were biased and political.
The latest demonstrations are led by an eclectic mix of Thaksin loyalists. The former leader fled into exile last year before a court convicted him in absentia of violating conflict of interest laws.