Thursday, 8 April 2010

Thailand declares state of emergency as Red Shirts storm Parliament

Thailand declares state of emergency as Red Shirts storm Parliament

via CAAI News Media

From Times Online
April 7, 2010

Sian Powell, Bangkok

Thailand's Government has finally declared a state of emergency to try and seize the impetus from anti-government protesters who have held the nation's capital to ransom for days.

A wedge of anti-government protesters stormed the nation's Parliament today, forcing some parliamentarians to make an undignified exit down the back wall on a ladder and to flee in a military helicopter.

The United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship protesters, usually known as Red Shirts, have crippled Bangkok's retail district since the weekend, occupying an intersection in the city's prime shopping strip and forcing as many as six malls, and countless small shops, to close. Convoys of Red Shirts have streamed through the city, defying legal bans preventing them from using certain thoroughfares.

The few dozen Red Shirts who stormed Parliament arrived in a lorry, forced open a metal gate, found no security guards to impede their progress and finally milled through the building. They left without violence following the request of opposition politicians.

The deputy Prime Minister, Suthep Thaugsuban, was one of several parliamentarians airlifted to safety in a Black Hawk helicopter carrying five soldiers, reportedly armed with sub-machine guns.

Illustrating the government's impotence in the face of the escalating demonstration, a soldier carrying an M-16 was chased from the Parliament building by one of the opposition lawmakers, who was outraged that he was bearing arms. The soldier was eventually wrestled to the ground by Red Shirts and disarmed.

Thailand's Government, led by the Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, cannot rely on either the military or the police to restore order to the strife-torn city because, analysts say, the rank and file could easily take sides with the protesters.

The Red Shirts have occupied various parts of Bangkok since March 12, determined to force the Government, which they say is illegitimately holding on to power, to call fresh elections.

But the official government spokesman, Panitan Wattanayagorn, told The Times that the Government had specifically limited the military's power by requesting an absence of arms in dealing with the protesters. The military has no policy not to get tough, he said. The military is cooperating with the civilian Government.

A state of emergency had been declared, Mr Panitan explained, to give the military more power to deal with the protesters, but it had been made clear to the military authorities that soldiers were not to harm or cause conflict with the people.

Mr Abhisit, the prime target of the Red Shirts invective, had left Parliament before the protesters invasion. He has tried to negotiate his way out of the impasse, offering to hold elections within months. The Red Shirts, representing the rural poor of Thailand's north and north-east, would like him ousted and his Government, which they say is in thrall to the military and urban elites, dissolved. Mr Abhisit has now been forced to cancel a trip to Washington to attend an international nuclear summit in coming days.

He has told Thais across the nation that the fragile situation demands careful manoeuvering. Yet frustration is mounting, both against the disruptive Red Shirts and against the Government, seen by many in Bangkok as failing to deal with the situation. "We need to plan and implement everything to the last detail and with thorough care," Mr Abhisit said. "The last thing we want is for the situation to spiral out of control."

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