Thai protesters defy government decree
Anti-government protesters remained camped out Thursday in the central streets of Bangkok, defying the state of emergency declared by the government after a group of them stormed Parliament.
But the number of protesters, who are mostly farmers from the country's impoverished provincial regions, dwindled to 2,000 or 3,000, compared to the tens of thousands in recent days.
The protesters, who are known as the Red Shirts and characterize their movement as a class war against Bangkok's elite, continued to call for the immediate resignation of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and for new elections.
Residents of Bangkok were already under the strict Internal Security Act. But under the state of emergency declaration, the military authority has more sweeping powers to restore order and security forces can suspend certain civil liberties and ban public gatherings of more than five people.
Most analysts doubt the government will use force to crack down on protesters. It did, however, block the signal of the opposition's PTV station on Thursday and censored content of at least 36 websites including material from Twitter and YouTube.
Red Shirt leaders responded with a call for a march on Friday to 10 undisclosed locations in Bangkok and pledged to make it the biggest rally yet in the month-long campaign to oust Abhisit.
The demonstrations forced Abhisit to cancel a trip to Vietnam for a meeting of Southeast Asian leaders on Thursday. He has also nixed plans to attend a global nuclear summit in Washington on Monday.
Some of the protesters stormed parliament on Wednesday to press their demand that Abhisit dissolve parliament within 15 days and call new elections. He has offered to do so by the end of the year.
Demonstrators have been camped in Bangkok since March 12 and have ignored previous decrees that they end their protests, which over the weekend forced at least six upscale shopping malls to close in Bangkok's downtown commercial district.
The Red Shirts support ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra whose allies won elections in December 2007. Two resulting governments were forced out by court rulings.
A parliamentary vote brought Abhisit's party to power in December 2008. The Red Shirts say his rule is undemocratic and that only new elections can restore integrity to Thai democracy.
With files from The Associated Press