PAD tells top police it will not budge
The People's Alliance for Democracy yesterday vowed to keep its anti-Thaksin rally site intact even though the Red Cross Fair has a prior booking to turn part of the area into its annual fairground later this month.
Their pledge was made as senior security officers and police pressured them over the length of their rally in front of Government House.
"We have reached a consensus to remain here as this site is the most appropriate one. The massive amount of people need a huge space with strict security measures," Suriyasai Katasila, said late yesterday after a meeting of the PAD's top five leaders.
"If the officers consider it is against the law, then, come and arrest all 100,000 of us here," he said.
Chamlong Srimuang, another PAD leader said: "We have nowhere else to move to, and the PAD will discuss how to share the site and reply to the Red Cross."
Sondhi Limthongkul, also a PAD leader, said part of the gathering of people at Misakawan will move to the King Rama VI Monument near Lumpini public park on Tuesday to kick off a public education rally along Silom Road.
As of 10pm yesterday, the crowds at the PAD protest had risen to about 120,000.
The Assembly of the Poor said it would join the PAD protest after having declined to do so for several weeks.
"Thaksin has robbed the poor for five years now. He no longer deserves to be premier," said Yongyut Nawaniyom, an assembly leader.
"If there has any mass attempts to disperse the PAD gathering for any reason, ten of thousands of people under the umbrella of assembly are ready to join the PAD in Bangkok," he warned.
The PAD's statement that it would not budge triggered speculation that traffic police might try to evict the protesters by carrying them off one by one. Hundreds of protesters from the South are currently camping out in the area in question.
The battle for space started early yesterday morning after Dusit police and contractors for the Red Cross fair began a round of inspection of the traffic islands on Rajdamnoen Nok Avenue, a designated site for the fairground.
The fair is scheduled to start on March 29 and end on April 9. It will cover the Amporn Garden compound, the Royal Plaza and part of Rajdamnoen Nok Avenue, where it overlaps with the rally site.
Alerted about the inspection, Chamlong rushed to allay the concern of protesters who were given notice to take down their tents and make way for the construction crew.
"No one can dislodge the tents, and this is not an attempt to resist an official order because people have the right to rally," he said.
After learning about the contractors' work plans, he said he appreciated the construction deadline and would consult with other PAD leaders before deciding the next move.
Lt-Colonel Krisadang Jittripol, deputy superintendent of Dusit police station, said protesters and their makeshift facilities would have to evacuate every traffic island located in front of the Education Ministry building.
In the afternoon, Red Cross officials visited Chamlong to show him the design of the fairground. The space now occupied by protesters is needed for the exhibition booths of government agencies, including the Public Health Ministry.
Many of the protesters booed the officials while Chamlong was talking to them.
Deputy Prime Minister Chidchai Vanasatidya said the PAD had refused to evacuate the Misakawan intersection, even though police had tried to persuade them.
"I have not given up hope for a compromise and police will again try to persuade the PAD to cooperate," he said.
Traffic Police commander Maj-General Phanu Koedlapphol said protesters had blocked all traffic lanes of Rajdamnoen Nok Avenue, particularly at the Misakawan intersection.
He urged the PAD to open up some lanes in order to ease traffic congestion.
On the other side of the capital, government supporters rallied at Chatuchak Park and the crowds swelled to several thousand after the arrival of an advance team of rural farmers travelling in two caravans of farm trucks.
About 200 operators of commuter vans and 400 motorcycle taxi-drivers also joined the rally.
Khamta Kaenboonchan, secretary-general of the Caravan of the Poor, said rural farmers would camp out at the park and give speeches at the pro-government rally.
Thai Rak Thai Party deputy leader Yaowapha Wongsawat paid a brief visit to the rally in order to ensure that her party's supporters were well provided for in terms of basic facilities.
Yaowapha is the younger sister of caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Also yesterday, General Suchinda Kraprayoon, a former prime minister who was dubbed a "dictator" by public, yesterday said the military was working effectively. He said there was no need for the military to take "special" action unless an emergency decree was announced.