Thursday, October 23, 2008

Protesters pelt Thai prime minister with insults and shoes

BANGKOK: The embattled prime minister of Thailand, Somchai Wongsawat, was confronted Wednesday by angry protesters, who reportedly threw shoes and plastic water bottles at him during a visit to a government telecommunications office.

The run-in with the crowd of several hundred protesters, who shouted "Murderer!" and other insults, underlines the personalized animosity that pervades Thailand's political crisis. It also highlights the increasing difficulty of the government to function properly. Many of the protesters were reportedly government employees.

In the four weeks since being sworn in as prime minister, Somchai has not been able to access his office, which has been occupied by anti-government protesters since August.

Two weeks ago the prime minister was forced to climb over a fence to escape demonstrators who had surrounded the Parliament building. Two people were killed when police, using powerful tear gas grenades, cleared a path for members of Parliament to flee.

Somchai is looking increasingly isolated, with the chief of the army, General Anupong Paochinda, publicly advising him to resign last week.

According to an online report by the Matichon newspaper, Somchai was blocked from leaving the telecommunications office at noon Wednesday by about 500 protesters, who threw objects, including a small piece of plastic that hit him on the head. Somchai, who was unharmed, escaped when his security detail cleared a path for him.

Somchai is the brother-in-law of Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister ousted in a 2006 coup who is now in self-imposed exile in Britain. On Tuesday, Thaksin, who is the focus of the protesters' ire, was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison for abuse of power.

Analysts in Bangkok have speculated that Somchai will be forced to dissolve Parliament and call fresh elections.

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