State of emergency in Thailand

Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit
Vejjajiva has declared a state of emergency in Bangkok and surrounding areas amid
escalating anti-government protests.

In a televised address, Mr Abhisit
said the move – which gives sweeping new powers to the security forces to
tackle protesters – would help restore order.

It comes hours after thousands of
“red-shirt” protesters marched on parliament – forcing MPs to flee
the building.

The protesters want Mr Abhisit to
resign and call elections.

Thailand has lurched from one
crisis to another since 2006 when the government of Thaksin Shinawatra was
overthrown.

The current bout of red-shirt
rallies began on 12 March.

The government had vowed not to use
force against the red-shirts, and the protesters too had said their
demonstrations would not be violent.

But Mr Abhisit said in his
televised address that the protesters could no longer be considered peaceful
after their march on parliament.

“Our goal is to restore
normalcy,” he said.

“We need to plan and implement
everything to the last detail and with thorough care. The last thing we want is
for the situation to spiral out of control.”

Emergency law gives sweeping powers
to the security forces and in theory bans public gatherings of more than five
people.

But the tens of thousands of anti
government protesters are vowing to remain in the commercial heart of Bangkok despite
the emergency order.

They regard Mr Abhisit’s government
as illegitimate as it was brought to power with military support.

One red-shirt leader, Veera
Musikapong, told the protesters after Mr Abhisit’s announcement: “We have
to prepare for another war. If the military comes you should not panic – just
stay put.”

A minister attached to Mr Abhisit’s
office said the authorities would disperse protesters, detain protest leaders
and search their houses.

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