BANGKOK (AFP) — Defiant Thai protesters scuffled with police Friday as tensions flared on day four of the Bangkok government compound siege, but the premier vowed that his peaceful resolve would not crack.
Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej has so far kept his promise not to use violence to end the massive demonstrations demanding his resignation -- the biggest challenge to his authority since he took power seven months ago.
Thousands of demonstrators have barricaded themselves in the government complex in the capital, accusing Samak of being a figurehead for ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra and insisting he must step down.
Demonstrators overnight managed to expel about 1,000 police from their protest camp while police said they discovered a stash of weapons including machetes and golf clubs.
The campaign also appeared to be broadening, with protests reported in three southern tourist destinations, but Samak said his policy was unchanged.
"Police will still adhere to my earlier order -- they merely went to post a court order, not to clear protesters," he told reporters.
Riot police forced their way back into the grounds of Government House on Friday, while small skirmishes broke out as police used shields and batons to prevent angry mobs from entering the compound, an AFP correspondent saw.
Thousands of police blocked the entrances to the sprawling compound, but by the afternoon their numbers appeared to be dwindling.
Colonel Noraboon Nanna, a police officer on the scene, earlier said about 13,000 protesters were inside the compound, with 8,000 police surrounding it.
Legal executors tried to enter to post a court injunction ordering the protesters to leave, but the demonstrators blocked them, forcing police to post the order on a lamppost close to the site.
"We have come here to get them to acknowledge the court order," said the deputy chief of the metropolitan police, Major General Akerach Meepreecha.
"We will wait, we will give them time," he said, adding: "If there is no reaction, the police will have to do something."
The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) has been demonstrating against Samak for months, but events took a new turn on Tuesday when protesters stormed a TV station and barricaded themselves inside the Government House grounds.
The courts have ordered the protesters to leave the site and issued arrest warrants for nine of the ringleaders on charges including rebellion.
Sondhi Limthongkul, a media tycoon and key PAD leader, told protesters to prepare themselves for "judgement day."
"We will not let anyone control our fate. We will write our fate on our own," he told screaming crowds.
His ally Sawit Kaoewan announced the group would broaden its attack by holding national strikes.
Youdtana Tupcharoen, governor of the State Railways of Thailand, said 248 drivers and mechanics called in sick on Friday, halting of a quarter of all services in the kingdom.
A spokeswoman at the Airports of Thailand (AOT) operator said thousands of PAD sympathisers blocked airports in the southern holiday destinations of Phuket and Hat Yai, while Thai TV said a similar rally broke out in Krabi.
"Five thousand protesters virtually blocked access to the Phuket International Airport so passengers cannot get in or out," Monrudee Ketphan told AFP, adding that 500 people were blocking the airport in Hat Yai.
The PAD -- which despite its name is trying to bring down Samak's elected government -- began its campaign at the end of May, just over three months after the coalition government was formed.
PAD protests helped lead to the 2006 coup that unseated Thaksin, and the entry into government of his ally Samak has infuriated the country's old power elites in the military and palace.
They also object to Samak's plans to amend a constitution drafted and approved under military rule following the coup.
A poll Wednesday showed the majority of Bangkok residents were fed up with the protesters claiming loyalty to the revered monarchy.
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