Thai PM Hangs on Amid Protests

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej remained in office today as thousands of protestors in Bangkok continued to demand his resignation, accusing him of corruption and being a puppet for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is now in exile.

After a week of chaotic demonstrations calling for Samak's ouster, a special joint session of parliament was called yesterday afternoon to address the situation, ending after midnight with no resolution and Samak refusing to resign.

"I don't want to bring shame on Thailand. We have been a democracy for more than 70 years," Samak said at the joint session, according to the Bangkok Post. "I have no other ambition but to get Thailand on a footing with other countries."

Protestors from the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) have been camped outside the Government House, the prime minister's office, for a week and shut down airports.

"I want to have a prime minister who has dignity," said protestor Jittima Pangsapa. "We love peace, we don't fight for violence. The power of the people come here by heart, not by cash."

A History of Unrest

Thailand is no stranger to coups -- there have been at least 18 since 1932.

The mood on the ground amongst the protesters now is more like a carnival than a demonstration -- with music, food stalls, people selling "Thailand Turning Point 2008" T-shirts and others offering massages.

However, the small number of people spotted in the crowds wearing helmets and carrying sticks are a reminder of the events of 1992 -- remembered as Black May -- when at least 50 people were officially reported killed after military troops retaliated against anti-government demonstrators.

On Friday, the efforts of protesters closed down airports in Southern Thailand, stranding tourists in the popular resort area of Phuket before reopening yesterday.

Court-ordered warrants are out for the arrest of at least nine of the protest leaders.

Samak denied reports that police used tear gas to control the crowds, saying the tear gas was, in fact, smoke from fire extinguishers, according to the Bangkok Post.

Protestors say they just want Samak to resign and have called for new elections, but there has been little unified preference for who should lead next.

"Everyone hates him, that's why they are here today," says 21-year-old Tharnisa Kongbunthoeng who is here with her mother.

"Anyone can be prime minister," says Suwan Kansanoh, a government official in the education ministry, "even a taxi driver."

No Intervention from King

Large crowds of people gather under tents at the Government House wearing yellow T-shirts and headbands, the color a sign of loyalty to the revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej. They wave noise makers and chant "We love Thailand, we love the King."

The king helped resolve the conflict in 1992 but has not yet intervened with this one, though it has been reported that Samak went to visit the king over the weekend.

It is unclear who is funding these PAD protests. Security officers are screening those who enter the demonstration area with scanners, and there are portable bathroom buses, organized recycling, free water and the freshly minted yellow T-shirts.

"Everything is free -- not from government, from privacy giver," says a woman standing over a table spilling over with sample-sized packets of medicine.

The PAD protestors yell for Samak to "get out" while smiling to the cameras.

Known as "the land of smiles," Thailand is a place where a smile can mean many different things, in a country that teeters in precarious balance.