Thai protesters pour own blood outside govt HQ

BANGKOK: Thai protesters poured several jugs of their own blood at the front gate of the government headquarters and outside the ruling party's offices Tuesday in a symbolic sacrifice to press their demands for new elections.

Thousands of red-shirted demonstrators formed long lines to have their blood drawn by nurses, a day after their leaders vowed to collect 1 million cubic centimeters of blood — 264 gallons (1,000 liters) — to spill at Government House and other key locations.

A few teaspoons of blood were drawn from the veins of each volunteer and then transferred into dozens of large plastic water containers that were passed overhead through the crowd of cheering protesters before being delivered to Government House, the prime minister's office. Riot police allowed protest leaders to approach the white iron front gate and pour out the blood, which oozed under the gate as national television broadcast the images live.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has not entered his office at Government House since the protests started on Friday.

"The blood of the common people is mixing together to fight for democracy," Nattawut Saikua, one of the protest leaders, told cheering supporters. "When Abhisit works in his office, he will be reminded that he is sitting on the people's blood."

As many as 100,000 Red Shirt protesters converged Sunday on the Thai capital to demand that Abhisit agree to dissolve parliament by midday Monday. Abhisit refused and blanketed the capital with security, but said his government was open to listening to what else the protesters had to say.

The Red Shirts include supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and other activists who oppose the 2006 military coup that ousted him for alleged corruption and abuse of power. They believe Abhisit came to power illegitimately with the connivance of the military and other parts of the traditional ruling class who were alarmed by Thaksin's popularity.

Minutes after the blood was spilled Tuesday, a medical cleanup team provided by the government — wearing white coats, face masks and rubber gloves — hosed down the site. Health authorities had warned that the protest was unhygienic and risked spreading disease if infected blood splashed healthy bystanders.

Hundreds of protesters then marched and rode pickup trucks and motorcycles to the nearby ruling Democrat Party headquarters and splashed several more jugs of blood on the pavement outside. Some tried to push their way past riot police but eventually dispersed.

Protest leaders also threatened to spill blood outside Abhisit's home in an upscale Bangkok residential neighborhood if their demands were not met.

A protest leader, Weng Tochirakarn, said they had collected 500,000 cubic centimeters of blood — half of their goal — from 50,000 protesters.

Government spokesman Panitan Watanayagorn said authorities will allow the protest as long as it remains peaceful.

"If they want to throw it and have a photo op and have us clean it up later, I think it's fine," Panitan told a briefing of foreign media. He said health authorities were looking into whether "throwing blood on the streets violates health measures."

The "blood sacrifice" tactic has been slammed by the Red Cross as wasteful and unhygienic since diseases like hepatitis and HIV-AIDS can be spread if needles used to draw the blood are reused. Protest leaders insisted they would use new needles for each person.

"This blood belongs to fighters for democracy. What is its color? Red!" an announcer shouted as protest leaders were having their blood drawn Tuesday morning on a stage near a white tent where lines of donors formed.

Several orange-robed Buddhist monks, who are forbidden by law from taking part in political activities, were among the first in line with one proudly showing off a syringe filled with his blood.

"I believe (in our leaders) and find their strategies rational and acceptable. If they say that we soldier on, I'm ready," said Suriya Laemthong, 28, who said he had a fear of needles and shielded his eyes with a baseball cap and hand as a nurse pricked his arm. But Suriya said he doubted that the blood spilling would compel the government to step down.

Police Gen. Wichai Sangprapai said the number of demonstrators has dropped from its peak of roughly 100,000 on Sunday, estimating that some 90,000 still remained in the capital.

The protests to date been notably peaceful. Two soldiers were wounded Monday by four grenades that exploded inside a military compound, but the army did not blame the Red Shirts. Embassies, however, have issued warnings to their nationals of possible violence, and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt M. Campbell canceled a scheduled visit Tuesday.

Panitan, the government spokesman, said the majority of protesters appear to have peaceful intentions, but authorities have identified about 3,000 people "with a history of violence" who have "embedded themselves in the protest." He said authorities are following them closely.

Thaksin has twice spoken to the demonstrators by video, urging them to continue their struggle in a nonviolent fashion.

Thaksin is a billionaire businessman who fled Thailand in 2008 ahead of a conviction on a conflict of interest charge for which he was sentenced to two years in jail.

Thailand has been in constant political turmoil since early 2006, when anti-Thaksin demonstrations began. In 2008, when Thaksin's political allies came back to power for a year, his opponents occupied the prime minister's office compound for three months and seized Bangkok's two airports for a week.