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Demos delay Thai PM speech

Thailand faces a new round of political chaos as Abhisit is blocked from parliament

Photo by:
AFP

Supporters of Thailand's former premier Thaksin Shinawatra protest the new government in Bangkok on Monday. 

BANGKOK - Thai Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva was forced to delay his maiden policy speech until today after thousands of protesters blockaded Parliament in the latest twist to the kingdom's political crisis.

Red-shirted supporters of ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled in a 2006 coup, sealed off the gates to parliament Monday and said they would stay until the newly-installed Abhisit called fresh elections.

The siege brought a sense of deja vu for many Thais, with protesters copying the tactics of rival, yellow-clad activists who launched a street campaign that helped bring down a government led by Thaksin's allies in December.

"The house speaker has decided to postpone the session until tomorrow [Tuesday]," British-born Abhisit told a press conference, adding that the speech could continue until Wednesday.

The speech was meant to start Monday morning but had already been delayed twice.

"We have negotiated all day and it was not successful, but we will continue our efforts. What has happened today will not affect the government's plans," he said.

The pro-Thaksin protesters earlier said they would allow the Oxford-educated Abhisit and his Cabinet to walk into parliament but not come by car.

Authorities, however, said it was unsafe for legislators to do so.

Police said around 9,000 "red-shirts" descended on parliament overnight after at least 20,000 Thaksin supporters had gathered on Sunday night at a city centre parade ground several kilometres away.

"We call for the government to dissolve the house and return power to the people," said pro-Thaksin leader Chalerm Yoobamrung.

Abhisit won a parliamentary vote two weeks ago to become Thailand's third premier in four months.

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