A strike by anti-government labor unions fizzled out Wednesday, but protesters demanding the prime minister's resignation refused to lift a weeklong siege of his office, ignoring an emergency decree that has hardened Thailand's political deadlock.
The Federation of State Enterprises comprising 43 unions had planned to lead more than 200,000 workers in a strikes to crimp the supplies of power and water to government offices, as well as disrupt telecommunications and rail, road and air transport.
But few services were disrupted by the protesters who want to oust Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej from office, accusing him of corruption, violating the Constitution and making questionable appointments to senior government positions.
Sawit Khaewwan, the federation's secretary-general, acknowledged that a majority of members were at work even though "thousands" stayed away. He added that essential services were not hit.
"We already said that we will (go on a strike) only if the government uses force to harm the people," he said.
The anti-Samak campaign is led by the People's Alliance for Democracy, which comprises labor union leaders, urban elite and civil society activists among others.
Thousands of PAD supporters remained camped in the sprawling grounds around Samak's office, the Government House, in a virtual siege that started on Aug. 26. Speakers took turns to get up on a stage and denounce Samak.
"The PAD will not hold talks with the government or anyone," said Somsak Kosaisuk, one of the five core leaders of the group. "The PAD will talk only after Samak has resigned," he said.
The PAD was formed in 2006 to demand the resignation of then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, eventually paving the way for a bloodless coup that ousted him. Thaksin, a telecommunications tycoon, recently fled to Britain to escape corruption charges. The protesters say Samak is Thaksin's stooge and is running the government for him by proxy.
However, there is no indication Samak will step down.
He imposed emergency rule limited to the capital Bangkok on Tuesday. The move came after a week of political tensions exploded into rioting and street fighting early Tuesday between Samak's supporters and opponents that left one person dead and dozens injured.
Emergency rule gives the military the right to restore order, allows authorities to suspend civil liberties, bans public gatherings of more than five people and bars the media from reporting news that "causes panic."
Still, the army chief, Gen. Anupong Paochinda, made it clear that if troops are ordered into Bangkok's streets, they will be armed only with riot shields and batons, and will not use force.
Anupong's assurance has turned the emergency decree into "toilet paper," said Sirinan Yodkongkha, a 45-year-old business woman.
"The state of emergency has ended up drawing a bigger crowd rather than scaring protesters away," said Sirinan, one of several thousand people camped out at the Government House despite a morning downpour.
New barbed-wire barricades were erected at the approaches to Bangkok's international Suvarnabhumi Airport, where protesters had threatened to disrupt flights on national carrier Thai Airways. But there was no sign of trouble and flights continued normally.
The threat to cut off water and electricity supply to government buildings also did not materialize.
"We don't know when we are going to start because we have to weigh our options and consider the effect it will have on the people as well," said Somchai Sirimivet, head of the union for Metropolitan WaterWorks Authority.
In a front-page editorial, the Bangkok Post daily said it is true that Samak's People's Power Party won the most seats in general elections last year.
"But winning the election does not mean his government has a mandate to break the law," it said.
It cited the Election Commission's recommendation Tuesday that his party be disbanded for fraud during elections last year. Samak and other party leaders would be banned from politics for five years if judicial authorities upheld the ruling.
"Even though we disagree with the PAD holding the country and the people to ransom ... we agree that the PAD has every right to protest against the government," the Post said.