Thai protesters defy state of emergency
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Thai Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency and threatened to crack down on some 40,000 anti-government protesters who gathered in Bangkok on Sunday, storming the interior ministry and mobbing the prime minister's car.
Reuters - Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency on Sunday to quell political unrest and threatened to take tough action against protesters who have gathered in Bangkok.
Troops fired into the air when anti-government protesters stormed the interior ministry on Sunday. The crowds mobbed the prime minister’s car and beat it with clubs as he drove away from the ministry.
Supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra triggered the emergency when they pushed past riot troops into the venue of a major Asian summit in the southern resort of Pattaya, forcing the meetings to be cancelled. Some leaders had to flee by helicopter.
After declaring victory there, the “red shirt” Thaksin supporters have been gathering all day at Government House in central Bangkok. By evening they numbered around 40,000.
The protesters set up makeshift road blocks and men, some with sticks, manned the barricades. Near midnight, the crowd remained large, although some had begun trickling home.
Thaksin, who has been making nightly phone calls to his supporters from exile, said earlier on Sunday it was now the “golden time” to rise up against the government.
He repeated his call for a “people’s revolution” and said he was ready to move back to Thailand to lead a people’s uprising if there was a coup.
Thailand has seen 18 coups since 1932 and another one is certainly a possibility if there is blood in the streets.
After midnight (1700 GMT), however, Abhisit appeared on television to dispel any talk of a possible military coup.
“I can confirm that the government and security agencies are still unified. You can see all the heads of the armed forces meeting with me right now,” he said. The camera panned to the commanders of the army, navy, air force and deputy police chief.
Several countries including Singapore and Britain have issued travel advisories for Thailand. The French Foreign Ministry on Sunday “strongly recommended” its nationals delay any non-essential trips to Bangkok.
The cancelled Asian summit and now the heightened tensions in the capital have undermined confidence in the government and dealt another blow to the economy, still reeling from political chaos last year and the global financial crisis, analysts said.
Thaksin’s absence has not healed divisions between the poor, who benefited from his populist policies, and the royalist, military and business elite, who say he was corrupt.
Hours after Abhisit’s car was attacked, he warned Thaksin supporters they could face tough measures.
“We want to ask you to stop such action. It is necessary for the government to adopt the measures allowed in the emergency decree, in order to get the nation back to peace,” he said earlier on television.
Some armoured vehicles have appeared on the streets but there were no reports of troops moving on the demonstrators.
A Reuters journalist at the Interior Ministry said soldiers initially made no effort to stop protesters from entering the premises but later fired into the air to stop others getting in.
At the summit venue in Pattaya, too, security forces did not put up strong resistance to the protesters.
Some demonstrators disabled the tracks of two armoured cars near police headquarters. Others danced on top of the vehicles.
Up to 300 police with riot shields were deployed about 200 metres (yards) from the demonstration at Government House—the focus of the protests since late March.
Guard badly beaten
The pro-Thaksin United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) said it was holding one of Abhisit’s security guards, claiming he had shot dead a protester at the ministry. Independent witnesses saw no one shot and Abhisit’s spokesman, Thepthai Senpong, dismissed it as propaganda.
A Reuters reporter saw the man’s ID, confirming he was part of Abhisit’s detail. He said the guard was badly beaten when he was brought to the Government House site, where demonstrators treated his wounds and sent him off in an ambulance.
Speaking from a makeshift stage, UDD leader Jakrapob Penkair said the Thaksin supporters were ready to defend themselves.
“They are trying to force us into a people’s war. We will bring more people to Government House because the best way to defend ourselves is with numbers,” he said.
He later told Reuters the demonstrators would stay indefinitely it there was not a crackdown.
As the crowd swelled at Government House, a Reuters reporter saw demonstrators preparing more than 100 petrol bombs. Surgical masks were handed out, possibly in case tear gas was used.
Police said they had arrested Arismun Pongreungrong, a popular singer prominent in the UDD’s disruption of the summit, and were holding him at a police station north of Bangkok.
Abhisit suffered political humiliation when the summit he had presented as a sign of the country’s return to normality had to be cancelled after the “red shirts” broke into the venue.
Thaksin’s supporters say Abhisit became premier last December only because of parliamentary defections which the army engineered. They want new elections, which they would be well placed to win.