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Violence escalates in Thai protests

Efforts to oust the prime minister included barricading legislators in Parliament for five hours on Tuesday.

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In recent days, two leaders of the PAD, an ad hoc alliance of businessmen, royalists, and unionists, were arrested separately on warrants related to their seizure of the prime minister's office. The arrests were well choreographed and appeared to be part of a strategy by both sides to up the ante.

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Government opponents claimed Tuesday that authorities overreacted to the protests and used excessive violence that they say underscores the government's lack of legitimacy. Instead of clearing the streets, police should have negotiated a settlement and not insisted on opening the Parliament, they argue.

"This is a democracy. One can do peaceful protests. They haven't done anything bad. They love the country. They love the king," says Anusart Suwanmongkol, an appointed senator who was among those who boycotted Tuesday's aborted joint session of Parliament.

Thailand's revered King Bhumibol is a constitutional monarch who is considered to be "above politics" but has intervened during past crises, including after deadly clashes in 1992. Many PAD followers accuse former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawtra, whose allies lead the current government, of seeking to end the monarchy, a charge echoed by the military junta that removed Mr. Thaksin in 2006.

Thaksin, who fled to London in August, has denied the charges and pledged loyalty to the crown. But PAD activists denounce him and believe that he is pulling the strings of Mr. Somchai, who is married to Thaksin's younger sister, a politician. Similar accusations were made against Samak Sundaravej, who served as prime minister for seven months before a court ordered him to step down for violating a constitutional ban over a TV cooking show.

Underscoring this royalist backdrop, Queen Sirikit, the king's wife, Tuesday donated $2,900 for the medical expenses of injured protesters, Thai media reported.

Standing by an improvised barricade of three abandoned police pickup trucks, Janeboon, a PAD guard, said a tough stance was necessary to send a signal to the government. He added he had sympathy for ordinary policemen on the other side, but that there wasn't much room for compromise. "Today we hurt and die. Tomorrow we will wake up and fight again," he says.

Not long after, police fired repeated rounds of tear gas and began to take back the streets around the Parliament. Over the next hour, gas hung in the air as protesters hurled bricks and rocks. In successive charges, police pushed through to the back exit of the Parliament and dragged police trucks with burst tires into a protective semicircle. Shortly after, a convoy of luxury cars and SUVs poured through the gates, as members of Parliament hurried home.