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State of emergency in Thailand; protestors attack PM's car

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Abhisit Vejjajiva.
Image: Yipski.

Troops are being deployed throughout Thailand as the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency in reaction to protesters supporting ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Armoured vehicles and bands of protesters are reportedly roving the streets of Bangkok and the prime minister has threatened to use force against the protesters.

File photo of Thaksin Shinawatra from 2005.
Image: Helene C. Stikkel (US DoD).

The protesters are supporters of the National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD). They demand the immediate resignation of the prime minister and fresh elections.

A group of protesters at the country's Ministry of the Interior, which Xinhua says numbered in the "hundreds", attacked the prime minister's Mercedes but he was not inside at the time. The ministry building was stormed by protesters and several police and protesters were injured during the ensuing riot.

The state of emergency comes after mass protests and an invasion of the conference site by UDD red-shirted demonstrators forced the abandonment of the sixteen-member ASEAN summit in the resort town of Pattaya yesterday.

"The government has to declare the state of emergency to restore normality as soon as possible," the Prime Minister was quoted as saying. This morning, the protesters were "infuriated" as the government arrested UDD leader and politician Arisman Pongruangrong, who led the Pattaya protest.

The protests come just months after the yellow-shirted People's Alliance for Democracy occupied airports in Bangkok, leading to the fall of the previous, Thaksin-aligned government. Thailand has had five prime ministers in the past 18 months since the Council for National Security relinquished power; the CNS took power in a 2006 military coup d'etat that deposed the Thaksin government.

Army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd called the deployment of troops a "measure to restore order" and denied it was another coup.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, in charge of the security measures against the UDD, stated on television earlier: "Police and military officers must fully and forcefully carry out their jobs lest more damage is done. Actions must be taken promptly and order be restored as soon as possible. Your superiors and I will take responsibility for all your actions."

Thailand has remained in turmoil since the ousting of now-fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra. A bloodless coup in 2006 saw him deposed, and he left the country to stay in the United Kingdom. While the courts in Thailand considered allegations of corruption against him and his wife, the UK government revoked his visa. In previous video conference and telephone addresses he has encouraged the red-shirted UDD protesters to oppose the current government.

Following the coup that deposed Thaksin, the various people involved in the populist Thai Rak Thai (TRT - lit. Thais love Thais) political party were forced to reform as TRT was outlawed. With significant support from the rural poor they won elections following the militarily appointed government stepping aside. Unrest following this, and charges of election fraud, toppled the new populist government.

Riots in Bangkok on 13 April 2009

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