Thai PM declares state of emergency in Bangkok


BANGKOK: Thailand’s em-battled premier declared a state of emergency in Bangkok yesterday after protesters stormed parlia-ment in a dramatic escalation of their bid to topple the government.Lawmakers fled and several senior government figures were airlifted by military helicopter after red-shirted supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shina-watra forced their way into the country’s parliamentary compound.

In an effort to contain the crisis, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva invoked emergency rule, which bans public gatherings of more than five people and gives broad powers to the police and military.

“The state of emergency aims to resolve the situation and bring a return to normal,” Abhisit told a nationally televised news conference.

He said the mass rallies were unconstitutional and had tarnished the country’s image, eroding investor confidence.

It is the fourth time since 2008 that emergency law has been declared in the capital because of political turmoil.

The government will disperse demonstrators in the city’s commercial heartland, arrest protest leaders and search their homes, Satit Wonghnong-taey, minister attached to the premier’s office, told reporters.

Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters have refused to leave Bangkok’s main shopping and hotel district, where they have been since Saturday, disrupting traffic and causing major stores to shut.

Security forces have so far refrained from using force to disperse the red-clad movement, who are mostly from Thailand’s rural poor and vowed to keep up their demonstrations despite the emergency decree.

“We have to prepare for another war. If the military comes you should not panic — just stay put,” Reds leader Veera Musikapong told protesters.

The protesters say the government is illegitimate because it came to power with army backing through a parliamentary vote in December 2008 after a court decision ousted Thaksin’s allies from power.

“I am not afraid. The government can do whatever they want. I will not run away. I’ll be here until we win,” said Siri Sukcharoen, a 43-year-old masseuse from the eastern province of Prachinburi.

Abhisit left a cabinet meeting at parliament when he learnt that the Reds were approaching, moving to a military barracks in the city’s northern outskirts, where he has mostly been based since the protests began mid-March.

He cancelled a planned trip to the United States for a nuclear security summit next week due to the unrest.

The Reds have been emboldened after the police and army backed down on Tuesday following a tense standoff in the capital’s tourist heartland. — AFP