Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva last night declared today a public holiday as he stood firm against the red-shirt protesters who caused traffic turmoil in Bangkok. (Check which roads are closed insideX
With today an additional holiday, the long Songkran break will be extended to six days.Abhisit flew back from Pattaya for the national television address.He announced the government would start strictly enforcing the law against any troublemakers among the protesters.The prime minister said the number of protesters yesterday had dropped 70 per cent from an estimated 100,000 on the first day of the rally on Wednesday. That was possibly due, he said, to many people having decided the protest was intended to become violent."The government is aware that the remaining protesters want to incite confrontation and violence with the aim of causing a riot," he said.He also ruled out protesters' demands for him to resign or dissolve the House of Representatives.
The prime minister insisted his government was working for the national interest, not personal benefit."I will never place my personal interest above the country's benefit," he said.Meanwhile, the red shirts wreaked havoc with Bangkok's traffic when they blocked a number of major thoroughfares in the city, including Victory Monument.
ASEAN SUMMITS TARGETEDProtest leaders asked for the red shirts to gather in Pattaya today at the start of the Asean summits with dialogue partner countries. They threatened to obstruct the events, in which leaders from the 10 Asean member countries are to meet with their counterparts from China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India.A government source said the authorities would not declare a state of emergency but might do so if difficulties caused by the protest became "unacceptable".Thaksin yesterday apologised to Bangkok residents for the road blockade by the taxi drivers, but added that such "small inconveniences" were necessary for political changes that were "for the betterment of the country".In his speech last night broadcast to his supporters, the ex-leader called for "the last revolution of the country to root out all the elite members who are behind the coup of 2006"."The power of the people is paramount.
There must be no other power beyond the power of the people any more," said the fugitive ex-premier.Thaksin also joked that Army chief General Anupong Paochinda should publicly call for the prime minister to resign like he did when Thaksin's brother-in-law, Somchai Wongsawat, was the government head last year.Traffic in many areas of the city became paralysed in the evening after red-shirt protesters on the second day of their major rally gathered at the Constitution Court, Democrat Party headquarters, the Foreign Ministry, Victory Monument and Democracy Monument.Dozens of taxi drivers sympathetic to the red shirts parked their vehicles on roads around the Victory Monument roundabout and with the help of red-clad protesters blocked all traffic from entering.The blockade paralysed traffic for several kilometres around Victory Monument.Protest leader Jatuporn Promphan, speaking at the main rally site outside of Government House, apologised to commuters for the road blockade."It's necessary. We must opt for a method that causes the least effects. The seizure of airports by the PAD caused more damage," he said, referring to the anti-Thaksin People's Alliance for Democracy.The protesters, calling themselves the Great Masses of the Red-Shirt People, issued a statement rejecting the status of the Abhisit Vejjajiva government "both de jure and de facto".
The statement, read out to the demonstrators by protest leader Veera Musigapong, also described the rally by the red shirts as "a legitimate exercise of citizens' rights against an illegitimate government".In addition to Bangkok, red shirts staged protests in 21 provinces, mostly in the North and the Northeast.