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Thai police confront protesters in PM's compound

MYT 2:47:04 PM

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai riot police scuffled with demonstrators barricaded in the prime minister's compound on Friday as they delivered an eviction order against the group seeking to oust the government.

Supporters of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) confront riot police outside the Government House in Bangkok August 29, 2008. (REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom)

Police armed with batons and shields posted the court order on lampposts and iron gates in the compound occupied by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) in a four-day standoff that has rattled investors.

Police briefly detained at least 15 protesters and took up positions around the PAD-controlled area, but they did not move to evict the 4,000-strong crowd.

Witnesses said teargas was fired but police denied it.

Police spokesman Surapol Thuanthong said they only intended to help court officials deliver the eviction order.

"We are trying to deal with the protesters as gently as possible. We are persuading them to leave the compound and will not do anything to those who follow the court order," he told reporters.

The PAD, whose 2005 protests against then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra contributed to his removal in a coup a year later, urged their supporters to gather at the compound until the current elected administration fell.

"Move in and circle around me. We can't let them seize our stage too easily," retired general and PAD leader Chamlong Srimuang told the cheering crowd.

Nine PAD leaders have been charged with insurrection, a crime that can carry the death penalty, after violent raids on government offices and a state TV station on Monday, which some newspapers criticised for going too far.

The motley group of businessmen, academics and activists launched the street campaign on May 25, accusing Samak's coalition government of being an illegitimate proxy of Thaksin, now in exile in London.

The PAD also proclaims itself to be a defender of revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej against a supposed Thaksin plan to turn Thailand into a republic -- a charge vehemently denied by both Thaksin and the government.

SHARES TURN LOWER

The group have barricaded themselves in the 11-acre compound behind razor wire and car tyres, with sentries armed with bars and golf clubs to repel the police.

Inside the compound, thousands of PAD supporters were seated on plastic sheeting, clapping and cheering speeches by the group's leaders.

Some held aloft pictures of King Bhumibol, shouting "We love the King. We love Thailand".

Thailand's stock market turned lower after the riot police moved in. The index opened higher but was down 0.51 percent at the midsession break, bucking the trend elsewhere in Asia.

Thai shares have fallen 23 percent since the street campaign began in May amid fears of everything from policy paralysis at a time of stuttering economic growth to bloodshed on the streets.

Analysts said the standoff was likely to drag on as long as the government avoided a violent confrontation that could prompt the military to intervene.

Army commanders have pledged to stay in their barracks for now, but Samak faced new pressure from state rail workers who began a partial strike on Thursday.

"We have told our union members to call a leave of absence to join the rally in Bangkok to oust this government, which has been damaging the country over the past seven months," State Railway of Thailand union leader Savit Kaewvan told Reuters.

Savit, who is also head of the umbrella group of all the state enterprises' labour unions with 200,000 members, said he expected other state unions to call for strikes.

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