Rallies gain momentum

BANGKOK - Anti-government protesters have surrounded provincial halls in the South since Tuesday, calling on civil servants to stop work.

Trang, Songkhla and Satun have seen crowds besiege their respective provincial administrations.

In Surat Thani, Governor Chatpong Chatphuti yesterday met with protesters to acknowledge their demand for a three-day work stoppage.

The provincial governor also agreed to blow a whistle, seen as a gesture in defiance of the central government.

Rally organisers promised to remain peaceful and vowed not to destroy state property, but a number of southern offices were forced to stop servicing the public because of inconvenience caused by the sieges - and some provincial officials were seen joining the protesters.

In Trang, where a crowd camped out inside the provincial-hall grounds, Senator Wichien Kunchong made a speech rallying protesters to oppose the so-called the "Thaksin regime".

Student and protest leader, Preepramote Lertworapat, said he had declared yesterday a public holiday so as to allow provincial officials to stay home. None of Trang's key officials reported to work at the provincial hall.

In Satun, Governor Nueachai Jira-apirak called an urgent meeting to ban protesters from entering the provincial hall, and he allowed all non-essential workers to go home early.

Acting in defiance of Nueachai's order, a group of student protesters stormed the building and turned the provincial hall into their rally site.

They managed to do so without being armed in any way.

In Yala, some 1,000 protesters surrounded the provincial hall, demanding that Governor Dechrat Simsiri acknowledge their call for civil servants to abandon the central government and side with the people.

While a number of protesters voluntarily dispersed after meeting with Dechrat, a splinter group decided to carry on rallying before forcing open the gate of the provincial hall.

In Chumphon, some 5,000 protesters besieged the provincial hall. Their protest was organised by local administration leader Krit Kaewrak.

In Phatthalung, protesters surrounded the provincial hall to demand a work stoppage, while in Songkhla, the provincial hall remained open despite camped-out protesters surrounding its grounds.

In Nakhon Si Thammarat, thousands of protesters besieged their provincial hall, and a number of provincial officials were seen leaving work to join the protest. Police were deployed to block protesters from entering the provincial offices.

In Ranong, protesters agreed to rally at the provincial-hall grounds without camping out. Their anti-government rally lasted a few hours before they voluntarily dispersed.

Elsewhere around the country, Saraburi saw crowds marching to and massing outside the provincial hall, but no unruly conduct was reported and they dispersed after rallying for about 30 minutes.

In Khon Kaen, some 300 protesters showed up at the provincial hall to blow whistles. Governor Somsak Suwansujarit said he did not anticipate any violence and remained optimistic that the protest would end before his province's annual "Silk Festival", scheduled for tomorrow.