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Asia-pacific

Thai PM declares state of emergency

Video by Florence VILLEMINOT

Text by REUTERS

Latest update : 2008-11-28

Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat said Thursday that the government had imposed a state of emergency at Bangkok's two airports after they were occupied by protestors. The army spokesman earlier denied the military was planning a coup.

Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat declared on Thursday a state of emergency at two Bangkok airports besieged by anti-government protesters, as rumours of a coup swirled round the capital.

In a televised address to the nation, Somchai said police and some military units would try to end the blockades by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) at the Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang airports which he said was causing massive damage to the economy.

The PAD refused to end their protests, which have forced flight cancellations and stranded thousands of travellers.

"We will not leave. We will use human shields against the police if they try to disperse us," PAD leader Suriyasai Katasila told Reuters.

It was not clear what action the police might take, but 30 medical teams were on standby in case of a bloody crackdown, the Nation newspaper's website said.

Some office employees left work early in Bangkok and the United Nations advised its staff to go home and remain indoors.

Thailand's three-year-old political crisis has deepened since the PAD began a "final battle" on Monday to unseat a government it accuses of being a pawn of former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a 2006 coup.

With rumours of another putsch swirling, Somchai urged the army to stay put and denied that he planned to sack army chief Anupong Paochina, a day after the general urged him to call a snap election.

"Troops should stay in their barracks and the prime minister is not going to sack anybody," spokesman Nattawut Saikuar told reporters.

COUP RUMOURS

Pressure has built on the military to step in since Somchai rejected calls to quit, but pro-government forces are threatening to hit the streets if the elected administration is ousted, raising fears of major civil unrest.

Anupong has repeatedly said he would not take over, arguing the army is powerless to heal the fundamental political rifts between the Bangkok elite and middle classes who despise Thaksin, and the majority rural and urban poor who love him.

Tension has been rising across the country, which has seen 18 coups or attempted coups in 76 years of on-off democracy.

In Chiang Mai, a pro-government gang shot dead an anti-government activist late on Wednesday after dragging him from his car.

The long-running unrest has paralysed government decision making, stirring fears it could exacerbate the impact of the global slowdown and tip the export-driven economy into recession.

Thailand's lucrative tourism sector looked set to take a major hit from the PAD blockade at Suvarnabhumi, a major Asian airport and gateway for nearly 15 million visitors to Thailand last year.

At Suvarnabhumi, which Thai Airways said would remain closed until Saturday, tourists turned up only to find yellow-shirted PAD supporters milling around and few airport officials in sight.

"I'm worried because our visas expired yesterday and I don't want to go into town because we have no money and we might get arrested," said South African backpacker Deon Bunding.

Don Muang, a big domestic hub, would be shut until 6 p.m. on Friday, Thai Airways said.

Date created : 2008-11-27

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