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Protesters storm government-run television station, programming suspended

(SEAPA/IFEX) - On the morning of 26 August 2008, protesters identified with the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) - an anti-government movement - broke through a police-fortified iron gate to enter the compound of Thailand's state-run National Broadcasting Television (NBT). Electricity was cut at the station and, at 8:30 a.m. (local time), NBT officials were forced to suspend operations pending efforts by station managers and the police to restore order. It is not yet certain who cut off the electricity at the station, but NBT officials said it was definitely not on their orders.

According to media reports, at least 2,000 protesters were involved in the storming of the station, which the PAD accuses of being a "government propaganda machine". The NBT captured video footage of the mob rocking the station's iron gate back and forth until it collapsed. Dozens of police on the other side of the gate failed to keep the gate up and closed.

Dozens of masked protesters then broke down a glass entrance and gained entry into the NBT main lobby and building. Programming has been suspended and most of NBT's staff have left the premises. As of 10:00 a.m. on 26 August, NBT was broadcasting from an older station it owns in downtown Bangkok, covering its own unfolding crisis.

Bangkok's English-language daily, "The Nation", said the protesters started gathering in front the NBT compound along Bangkok's Vibhavadi Road between 5:30 a.m. and 6:00 a.m.

As of 10:00 a.m., police were still trying to restore order, but the situation remains tense in and around the NBT compound. Some arrests have apparently been made, with "The Nation" reporting that police are interrogating some people found with weapons such as long knives and at least one handgun.

The PAD has been waging weekly protests in Bangkok since May, aiming for nothing less than the ouster of the government led by Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej. The Alliance was the main driving force behind political demonstrations against the government of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was eventually ousted in a military coup in 2006. After the military allowed for a new Thai constitution and for new elections, Samak emerged as Thailand's new elected prime minister. However, PAD sees Samak as nothing more than a proxy for Thaksin, hence the continuing calls for his ouster.

Agence France Presse quotes PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul as calling on more people to join the demonstrators that now hold the NBT hostage. With overwhelmed police also moving to add to their numbers to somehow restore order at the station, the situation will likely remain volatile for the time being.

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