Protesters surrender, PM back in control

  • Lindsay Murdoch in Bangkok

  • April 15, 2009

THOUSANDS of anti-government demonstrators have ended violent protests in Bangkok in a victory for the embattled Thai Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Protest leaders surrendered to authorities late yesterday after diehard protesters who had plunged the capital into chaos streamed out of Government House, which they had stormed three weeks ago.

The surrenders are a serious setback for the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who had called for Thais to rise up in a revolution that would allow him to return from exile.

Mr Abhisit's victory will enable him to move back into the Prime Minister's office. He had insisted that troops and police not use lethal force despite extreme provocation.

During the most serious threat to his leadership since taking office last December, Mr Abhisit frequently appeared on television urging a peaceful end to the violence. He ignored criticism that security forces were not tough enough in dealing with protesters when they forced the cancellation of the Association of South-East Asian Nations summit last weekend in the resort town of Pattaya.

As violence escalated in Bangkok, including attacks on a car in which he was travelling, British-educated Mr Abhisit declared a state of emergency but insisted protesters had a right to peaceful protest.

He praised security forces, saying they used "soft means" and "prevented as much damage as possible" during the violence that left two people dead and more than 120 injured, some of them seriously.

The military, which has staged 19 coups or attempted coups in the past, used tear gas, water cannons and blank bullets to force the protesters off the streets where they were throwing petrol bombs, sticks and rocks and had hijacked buses and petrol and gas tankers.

Protest leaders agreed to surrender after hundreds of troops in combat gear surrounded the grounds of Government House yesterday morning, telling them through loud hailers than they could not stay any longer.

Protesters earlier vowed to make a "last stand" unless the Government resigned. Leaders said the surrender was not an end to the "red shirts" movement that is demanding political reform and justice for its leaders they say have been unfairly convicted of offences, including Thaksin.

Jatuporn Phrompan, one of the leaders, said the siege was ended to protect the protesters.

"We will continue fighting. Everything will continue," he said, without eleborating.

Many of the protesters looked sad but flashed victory signs as they walked to buses provided by the military.

Thailand's national police chief, Patcharawat Wongsuwan, said the protest organisers would be prosecuted for violating the state of emergency that banned large gatherings. "All the core protest leaders will be prosecuted," he said. Warrants would be issued within hours.

But the prosecutions will be a sensitive issue for Mr Abhisit.

The "yellow shirt" protest leaders who closed Thailand's main airports last November remain free.

Mr Abhisit's administration is pressing Interpol to apprehend Thaksin, who is believed to be in Dubai, where he told CNN that troops had covered up the killing of many people during the protests.