A supporter of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra shouts slogans while enjoying coffee and donuts at a protest rally outside Government House Friday, March 27, 2009, in Bangkok, Thailand. The new burst of political turmoil, which has plagued Thailand throughout most of last year, came as the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva grappled with the country's worst economic crisis in a decade. (AP Photo/David Longstreath)
March 27, 2009
By Ambika Ahuja
Associated Press Writer
BANGKOK—The Thai prime minister rejected calls for his resignation by thousands of anti-government protesters who ringed his office for a second day Friday in a boisterous rally.
Supporters of deposed former leader Thaksin Shinawatra have surrounded the government's main office since Thursday. The demonstrators say Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjavija's government came to power three months ago through illegal means and are demanding a dissolution of Parliament and fresh elections.
Police estimated about 30,000 people gathered outside Government House on Thursday evening.
About 3,000 demonstrators remained on the streets around the seat of government Friday as leaders took to the stage to denounce the government in the midday heat.
More were expected to join the throng in the evening to hear Thaksin, currently in self-imposed exile, make a televised broadcast to the rally from a secret location abroad.
The protest is the latest episode in Thailand's protracted political turmoil which last year saw months of protests by Thaksin's opponents.
Abhisit said he does not expect the protests to turn violent. Other demonstrations against the current government have been generally peaceful.
"Whether to resign or not resign is a political matter within the system," Abhisit told reporters Friday at his Democrat Party's headquarters. "Right now, the situation remains normal."
Abhisit went later to Parliament. It was not clear if he would try to enter Government House later in the day.
Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thuaksuban said security officials will assess the situation before Abhisit and his Cabinet members enter the compound.
Thaksin's supporters are using the same people-power method as their rivals, who last year besieged the Government House for three months and occupied Bangkok's two main airports for one week.
The "red-shirts," as the pro-Thaksin supporters are commonly known because of their favored color, have vowed to remain outside Government House at least through the weekend. But they said they would not break into the compound as their rivals did.
"We will protest until the illegitimate government is gone. We have to stop them from causing more damage to Thai democracy," said a protest leader, Nattawut Sai-kua. "We will stay for as long as we need to get the job done."
Abhisit was voted in by Parliament in December after a court dissolved the party leading the previous government, which was packed with Thaksin's allies.
Protesters say the court decisions were political and biased against the former leader's allies.
Thaksin, who remains popular in the countryside, fled into exile last year and has been convicted in absentia of violating a conflict of interest law.
He made a brief phone call that was broadcast to the rally Thursday night. He said he was calling from Africa.
"I want to thank you, brothers and sisters, who are here to defend democracy," he said to loud cheers from protesters. "Without democracy, there will never be progress."
He was ousted in a 2006 military coup for alleged corruption and abuse of power.