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Who's joining Thai protests?

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Wanchalerm Sangwantond, a high-school student wearing his uniform, says his mother encouraged him to join Friday's march and the compound sit-in. We come here because we want to show our support [for this campaign]. We hate this government," he says.

Plenty of university students take an interest in social and political issues, says Giles Ungpakorn, a leftist politics professor at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, where Totsapol studies. But while students stood up to military dictators in 1992, joining the People's Alliance for Democracy - a coalition of royalists, businesspeople, and academics leading the current protests - may be less appealing.

"If students get active in politics, that would be a significant change. But the PAD is fighting on a conservative, reactionary platform. That's not necessarily something that stirs up young people," he says.

Samak often dismisses the group as an irrational mob. On Thursday, he proposed holding a national referendum to end the crisis, a move that could take weeks to organize. PAD leaders swiftly rejected the idea as a delaying tactic.

Adding to the uncertainty, the Election Commission voted Tuesday to recommend dissolving Samak's People's Power Party for campaign fraud during last December's parliamentary election. Party dissolution would trigger new polls that seem unlikely to heal the divisions exposed by the current stalemate.

"I think the problem in Thai society is much deeper than the conflict between the government and the PAD and whatever governments comes out [of elections]. There will be protests, large or small. It's inevitable," says Nidhi Eoseewong, a liberal historian in Chiang Mai.

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