Thailand: anti-government protesters remain defiant, vow to fight on

Some willing to lose their lives in the fight to force Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej from office.

thailand protests 224.88 ap (photo credit:)
thailand protests 224.88 ap
(photo credit: )
Grasping a bamboo baton and holding a crash helmet by her side, 66-year-old Kaewta Singhasaenee spent much of Tuesday preparing for potential attacks on her and other protesters camped out at the prime minister's office compound. "Wait until tonight," Kaewta said, holding back a smile. "If they come, I won't run. I love my country. I'm an old lady - but I'm strong." Kaewta has reason to be anxious. The government declared a state of emergency Tuesday and rumors of a possible raid by police, the military or rival demonstrators are swirling around the compound, which anti-government protesters have occupied for a week hoping to bring down the government. Overnight, government supporters launched an unsuccessful attack on the protesters' comrades just down the street, sparking clashes that left one person dead and dozens injured. Despite the violence, many of the thousands of protesters said they have no plans to leave the site. Some even said they were willing to lose their lives in the fight to force Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej from office. "Nobody is afraid because we're sure we're going to win," said Charlee Chantadoon, a 43-year-old resort owner from the island of Koh Chang who was helping man one of eight security checkpoints at the site. He and other guards were armed with golf clubs, metal poles and bamboo batons. "We don't want to kill anyone," he said. "We're just normal people who came here out of our hearts and love for our country." The grounds - which in recent days had taken on a festive, relaxed feeling - felt more tense Tuesday. The families and children were mostly gone and helmet-clad people armed with sticks patrolled the grounds. Protest leaders from a huge stage worked up the crowd, shouting, "Are you scared?" The crowd responded: "We're not scared!" Angry speeches run all day, castigating the government. Sawat Juntarath, a 34-year-old pub owner who was also serving as a security guard, said "emotions are building" and that he was ready for a fight. "I have no fear of dying," he said. Tens of thousands of protesters overran Government House, as the office compound is known, on Aug. 26 and have turned the well-manicured grounds into a muddy, makeshift campground. The several thousand who have remained accuse the government of corruption and being a proxy for ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. They want Samak to resign. Stalls offering free food, water and medicine are scattered through the grounds, and protesters seeking relief from the sun wait in long lines for iced tea or shaved ice covered with syrup. Pictures of Thailand's beloved king and queen are posted above tents, while underfoot, doormats featuring portraits of Thaksin and his wife and the words "Most Wanted" are a popular place for protesters to clean their feet. Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup and recently fled to Britain to escape an array of corruption charges. The People's Alliance for Democracy, which is behind the current protests, also organized the massive anti-Thaksin demonstrations in 2006 that helped spark the bloodless coup. Made up mostly of royalists, union activists and urban elites, the group has coalesced around their hatred of Samak. "Samak is the same as Hitler," said 52-year-old Agkarapol Yam-oum of Bangkok. "Everything he does is corrupt." Other than their call for Samak to step down, their demands are murky. Some simply want a new election, while others want election rules rewritten so the country's rural majority - who form the government's political base - don't have a clear advantage at the polls. But, for now, they all are keeping Samak squarely in their sights. "People have the right to show their power when we don't agree with the government," said Thapat Ketchaikosol, an 18-year-old dentistry student at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.