Thai officials pressure protesters
Court orders crowd to disperse; warrants issued
BANGKOK - Thai authorities stepped up pressure yesterday on demonstrators occupying the grounds of the prime minister's office, getting court orders demanding the crowd disperse and issuing arrest warrants for nine protest leaders on insurrection charges.
The actions raised tensions at the protest site, where at least 2,000 police faced a crowd of rightist demonstrators that appeared to number as many as the 30,000 estimated to have protested the previous day when the compound was seized.
About 5,000 members of the People's Alliance for Democracy camped on the grounds of Government House to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, while thousands more filled adjoining streets.
A protest leader read the court orders to the crowd late yesterday, but said protesters would ignore them pending appeals.
Dozens of demonstrators built makeshift barricades to hinder any police raid, despite their leaders saying they would not resist arrest.
But while police were out in large numbers, they did not appear to be preparing to quickly enforce the court order.
Samak said Tuesday that authorities would avoid using force against the demonstrators and would take a "soft and gentle" approach.
He accused the protesters of trying to incite violence that could provoke a coup, but said he would not resign.
General Anupong Paochinda, the army chief, reassured the public Tuesday that the military was not planning a coup and would stay out of politics.
The protest alliance wants Samak's government to quit, saying it is a proxy for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by the military in 2006 and recently fled to London in the face of several corruption cases.
After Samak led Thaksin political allies to a victory in national elections last December with the support of Thailand's rural majority, the alliance launched a new protest campaign in May and it escalated this week with the capture of Government House.
The capital's deputy police chief, Lieutenant General Jongrak Chutanont, said the Bangkok Civil Court issued a ruling late yesterday ordering all protesters to immediately leave the government compound and to stop blocking public streets.
Earlier in the day, the Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for nine leaders of the right-wing protest group, which is loosely aligned with conservative factions in Thailand's royal family and the military.
A police spokesman, Major General Suraphol Tuanthong, said the warrants charge insurrection, conspiracy, illegal assembly, and refusing orders to disperse.
Insurrection carries a maximum penalty of death or life imprisonment, but no one is known to have been executed for at least 30 years on the rarely prosecuted charge.