Thursday, April 08, 2010
03:26 Mecca time, 00:26 GMT
Thai PM declares state of emergency
Thailand’s prime minister has declared a state of emergency in the capital and surrounding areas to give the army broader powers to gain control of escalating street protests.
In a nationally televised address, Abhisit Vejjajiva said a state of emergency would help authorities arrest leaders of the so-called red shirt movement which has been staging protests in Bangkok for more than three weeks.
“The state of emergency aims to resolve the situation and bring a return to normal,” Abhisit said on Wednesday.
He said the mass rallies were unconstitutional and had tarnished the country’s image, eroding investor confidence.
The announcement came after the parliament was forced to suspend proceedings when the anti-government protesters briefly stormed the building, forcing MPs to flee from their seats.
Some senior officials were evacuated by military helicopter as hundreds of protesters pushed past security forces at around midday on Wednesday, using a lorry to ram the gates to the parliament compound.
Other MPs rushed to climb walls at the back of the compound in an effort to escape.
The protesters, supporting the ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, left the building shortly afterwards following appeals from opposition MPs.
A state of emergency allows authorities to suspend certain civil liberties and ban all public gatherings of more than five people.
It is the fourth time since 2008 that emergency law has been declared in the capital because of political turmoil.
Al Jazeera’s Wayne Hay, reporting from Bangkok, said the protesters showed no sign of interrupting their rallies after the state of emergency was declared.
“The rhetoric of the red shirt leaders on the stage has certainly intensified and a lot more red shirts supporters have flowed into the protest sites.”
Red shirt leaders vowed late on Tuesday to itensify the protests, which started in the capital on March 12, to force the government to stand down and call fresh elections.
“We will take it to the next level,” Nattawut Saikua, a leader of the protest movement known formally as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, told the crowds.
“We can’t say what we will do … we won’t give the government chance to prepare.”
On Tuesday, amid sporadic clashes between red shirts and security forces, a grenade attack injured two policemen outside the central Bangkok headquarters of Abhisit’s Democrat party.
Protesters have been occupying Bangkok’s main commercial district, vital to high-end retail and tourism, for five days.
The prime minister has been under pressure from Bangkok’s elites, the middle-class and even his own government to use force to remove the protesters and restore order in the city.
The government on Tuesday obtained a court order to arrest protest leaders, but said they could only be detained during an act of speaking to crowds.
The red shirts see Abhisit, an Oxford-trained economist, as a stooge controlled by the unelected elite establishment and military.
They say the prime minister – who came to power in a 2008 parliamentary vote after the courts dissolved a pro-Thaksin party in government at the time – should call an election and let the people choose their government.
The anti-government protesters have vowed to honour any outcome of a fresh election.
In the last five weeks, foreign investors have pumped more than $1.6bn into Thailand’s stock market, which is up more than 80 per cent over the past year.
But there is concern the political crisis could squeeze longer-term foreign direct investment (FDI) which has been volatile since the crisis began with a 2006 military coup that ousted the twice-elected Thaksin, following allegations of corruption.
Roberto Herrera-Lim, an analyst at the Eurasia Group consultancy, said that for the first time since the coup, foreign investors are “really taking a hard look at Thailand long-term because of this”.
“They see that the conflict is much deeper than the elite conflict of the past.”
Thailand Protests Escalate: Protesters BREAK INTO Parliament, Lawmakers Flee By Helicopter
DENIS D. GRAY | 04/ 7/10 11:52 PM |
BANGKOK — Defiant anti-government demonstrators dared Thailand’s government Thursday to break up their escalating protests, vowing to stage a mass rally in the capital despite a state of emergency that empowers the military to move against large gatherings.
The country’s beleaguered prime minister declared the emergency Wednesday night after protesters briefly broke into parliament, capping weeks of protests that have paralyzed the government and cost businesses tens of millions of dollars.
The “Red Shirt” demonstrators championing the rights of the rural poor remained uncowed. Their makeshift camps set up in Bangkok’s historic district March 12 have spread to the main commercial district and beyond, and they planned a mass rally Friday.
Amid fears that a showdown could end in violence, a Red Shirt leader dared a government crackdown. “If you have the guts to do it, do it now. But I warn you that our Red Shirt brothers and sisters would flood into Bangkok in greater numbers, if you crack down on us,” Jatuporn Prompan said.
The emergency move by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva came after mostly peaceful protests turned chaotic when demonstrators burst into Parliament and forced lawmakers to flee on ladders over a back wall, with senior officials hastily evacuated by helicopter.
The confrontation is part of the long-running battle between partisans of former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted by a 2006 military coup, and those who oppose him. Thaksin was accused of corruption and showing disrespect to the country’s revered monarch.
The demonstrators, called the Red Shirts for their attire, benefited from Thaksin’s populist policies such as cheap health care and village loans. They have demanded that Abhisit dissolve parliament within 15 days and call new elections, claiming he took office illegitimately in December 2008 with the help of military pressure on parliament.
Instead, the prime minister has offered to do so by the end of the year.
Protesters camped in the city have ignored court orders and a massive security presence. They have shown surprising tenacity as well as organizational skills, living under primitive conditions in scorching heat and moving around the city in well-ordered motorized columns.
Abhisit has become harshly criticized for failing to take strong measures to end the disruptive demonstrations. He has entered negotiations with the Red Shirts and ordered security forces to pull back from possible confrontations.
Several shopping malls have closed and luxury hotels put under virtual siege since Saturday, when demonstrators moved to a busy intersection at the heart of Bangkok’s commercial district.
Merchants have complained the boisterous demonstrations have cost billions of baht (tens of millions of dollars), and economists have expressed concern continuing protests will hurt the GDP.
Abhisit, in a televised broadcast that interrupted regular programming, said the aim of the emergency decree was to restore normalcy to Bangkok, and prevent “further related crime and disaster.”
“I want you to understand and stop taking part in any illegal demonstration,” the prime minister told the protesters.
The emergency decree allows security officials to detain suspects without charge for up to 30 days, and gives them the option of imposing curfews, banning public gatherings and censoring media.
However, the effectiveness of the decree is debatable. Although it gives the military greater powers to restore order, both Abhisit and the army know a crackdown could result in bloodshed that would be political poison.
U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the protesters have a right to express their views, but he urged them to avoid violence.
“We respect the right of freedom of expression, however, forcibly entering government buildings is not an appropriate means of protest,” Crowley said.
Surat Horachaikul, a political science lecturer at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, said the emergency announcement can be interpreted in two ways.
“First, it might be an attempt by the government to buy some time. Or it might actually mean that the government and the army have reached an agreement in solving the current problem,” he said.
The Red Shirts’ confrontational tactics mimic those of their ideological opposites, the Yellow Shirts, who staged the original anti-Thaksin protests. In 2008 they occupied the prime minister’s offices for three months and seized Bangkok’s two airports for a week, causing hundreds of millions dollars in economic losses.
The Yellow Shirts represent Thailand’s traditional royalist and military elite and are popular with Bangkok’s middle class.
Associated Press writers Jocelyn Gecker, Thanyarat Doksone, Kinan Suchaovanich, and Grant Peck contributed to this report from Bangkok. Foster Klug contributed from Washington.
The origin of all of these conflicts in Thailand is the Cold War. Thailand was an important U.S. ally in the region. The king and the military elite have been able to maintain power by force with American support.
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