Protests lead Thailand’s prime minister to declare state of emergency in Bangkok


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia
— After weeks of demonstrations that saw glitzy shopping malls blocked,
blood splattered on the prime minister’s residence and tourism dented, Thailand’s leader on Wednesday declared a state of emergency in Bangkok, handing the army broad power to restore order.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva made the move after
anti-government protesters broke into parliament, leading some
lawmakers to make a dramatic rooftop escape aboard a Blackhawk helicopter even as other parliamentarians scaled compound walls.

“Red shirt” protesters who oppose the current government, as opposed to the “yellow shirts” in Thailand’s
color-coded political system who generally favor the status quo, are
calling for the dissolution of parliament and a new election within 15

In response to the emergency decree, red shirt
leaders urged supporters to stay in place, wait for the military to
arrive and prepare for another major rally Friday.

Abhisit, struggling with a weak political mandate,
offered his reasoning for the decree in a televised statement that
broke into scheduled programming.

“The government has tried its best to enforce the
law, but violations of the law have increased,” the Oxford-educated
leader said. “Our main goal is to bring the country back to normal and
make our law sacred once again.”

The prime minister didn’t explain how the emergency decree would be applied. Bangkok
was already under the Internal Security Act, but a state of emergency
allows the government to impose curfews, ban public gatherings of more
than five people, restrict or ban media coverage of news likely to
“cause panic” and detain suspects without being charged for up to 30

The government has blinked in the protracted standoff, said Thongchai Winichakul, a professor at the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

“They can arrest or suppress the crowd, but they
still have a problem with legitimacy and how to rule,” he said. “I
don’t see any good outcome.”

A key determinant in the political brinkmanship
between the two sides will be the support they gain from the public and
the army, a powerful force in politics.

The red shirts, who draw much of their strength from farmers and laborers largely left out of Thailand’s economic boom, argue that Abhisit came to power illegitimately. Tens of thousands have camped out in the capital since March 12, sleeping in traffic circles and ignoring calls to disband.

The protesters, already emboldened by the impact of
such tactics, might gain even more ground if the government’s efforts
to contain them fail and Abhisit thus looks even weaker. However, they
run the risk of alienating significant segments of the society if
things turn violent.

“It’s a lose-lose situation for all,” said Winichakul. “The best hope is to find a compromise.”

Many red shirts support ex-Prime Minister Thaksin
Shinawatra who was ousted in a coup in 2006. His overthrow has led to
deep political divisions in Thai society that have hurt the country’s
economy, tourism trade and international reputation.


(c) 2010, Los Angeles Times.

Visit the Los Angeles Times on the Internet at

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.