Image: Protesters
Chumsak Kanoknan  /  Getty Images
A cart drawn by oxen passes a "most wanted" poster targeting former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his wife at a protest march Saturday in Bangkok.
updated 8/30/2008 4:01:38 PM ET 2008-08-30T20:01:38

They looked remarkably relaxed for a group that had clashed with riot police just one day earlier.

The thousands of Thai demonstrators who ran Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej out of his compound looked like a crowd at a folk concert Saturday, singing, clapping and smiling on the grounds of the Government House, the seat of Thailand's government.

"It's like a carnival," said Kit Amorn, 55, who owns a Bangkok chemical company.

As the demonstrators frolicked in the sun, Samak repeated his vow not to leave office. But as the protests entered their fifth day, nobody in the crowd seemed to believe him.

"Sooner or later, he'll have to resign," Amorn said.

Amorn and most other members of the People's Alliance for Democracy are drawn from Bangkok's affluent, educated class and believe Samak is too closely tied to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 coup and fled to exile in Britain to escape trial for corruption charges.

Well-heeled protesters
The crowd included stockbrokers, financial analysts and entrepreneurs, many carrying expensive cameras and mobile phones. And nearly all of them wore yellow to honor Thailand's wildly popular king, Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Although they have been camped out in the compound for five days, the grounds of the Government House remained relatively orderly, with demonstrators sweeping up trash and hosing down sidewalks. While some people have been relieving themselves outside, portable toilets have been trucked in, and makeshift showers have been erected on nearby sidewalks.

Protest organizers distributed bananas, apples, boiled eggs, sticky rice and various Thai dishes. They even passed out free underwear to people who did not have a change of clothes.

On Friday, after police muscled their way into the compound to deliver an eviction order, the alliance fought police in running street battles, charging, punching and hitting officers with sticks. They laid siege to city police headquarters, demanding the surrender of officers they accused of violence. As they pressed against the gates, police fired tear gas to disperse them.

Saturday was festive, with demonstrators cheering and celebrating what they viewed as a victory over the police. But helmets were stacked on the barricades, just in case the police returned.

"I was on the front lines," said a demonstrator named Danai, a 49-year-old marketing consultant from Bangkok. "We went after the police, and I was in the second row. I was tear gassed."

The People's Alliance for Democracy says Western-style democracy has allowed corruption to flourish and has proposed a new government blueprint that would make parliament a mostly appointed body with only 30 percent of lawmakers elected.

Some protest the crackdown
Pimrapaat Dusadeeisariyakul, a 40-year-old Bangkok resident, says she does not agree with that proposal, but she came to back the alliance anyway, accompanied by a toy poodle named Wunderbar, who wore a yellow bandanna to show his support for the throne.

Pimrapaat thinks the protesters were too quick to take to the streets, since Samak was elected in free elections just seven months ago. But she said she became disenchanted when she saw the police push their way into the compound Friday and decided to join forces with the protesters.

"Under our constitution, the people have the right to demonstrate, just as they do in other democracies," she said.

The demonstrators view their actions as the very essence of democracy, even though they are seeking to remove a democratically elected leader.

Most of the demonstrators do not regard Samak's election as legitimate and say Thaksin's supporters paid off poor people from the countryside, with a limited understanding of politics, to vote for Samak.

"This is democracy in action," said Amorn, the chemical company owner. "We have come together to show our people power. This scene may seem strange to Westerners, but it's normal to us."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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