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Clashes between Thai troops and anti-government protesters

Exiled former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra said he was ready to come back to Bangkok amid escalating political unrest that led the government to declare a state of emergency on Sunday, April 12.

An anti-government protester confronts armed Thai soldiers on the street near government house in Bangkok

Thailand's military has been told to crack down on protests

The Thai army has launched a crackdown on hundreds of anti-government protesters in the Thai capital, Bangkok. Officials said scores of people were wounded as troops enforcing a state of emergency clashed with protesters.

Police estimated that up to 30,000 red-shirted anti-government protesters had gathered around the capital, Bangkok, on Sunday.

In a telephone address to protesters gathered outside the prime minister's offices, Thaksin attacked the government's response to the demonstrations, and held out the possibility of returning to Thailand to lead the protesters' movement.

Former Thai Prime Minister Thanksin Shinawatra

Thaksin is wanted in Thailand on corruption charges

"Now that they have tanks on the streets, it is time for the people to come out in revolution," he said. "And when it is necessary, I will come back to the country. Let us be strong to fight for true democracy for our people."

Thaksin, who has been living in exile since a coup forced him from power in 2006, said the protests were a "golden opportunity" to dislodge the current government, which he described as illegitimate.

He also thanked soldiers who refused to enforce the government's emergency measures and urged the military to join the so-called "Red Shirt" movement to oust Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

"The troops who have already come out can come and join the Red Shirts to help us to get democracy for the people," he said.

State of emergency

An anti government demonstrator carries a sign calling for the ouster of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva during a rally

Protestors want to see the current prime minister gone

Earlier, the Thai government declared a state of emergency in Bangkok and surrounding areas after protesters forced the cancellation of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit on Saturday.

The announcement came as hundreds of protesters stormed the interior ministry, demanding premier Abhisit Vejjajiva's resigantion.

Abhisit managed to escape the complex by car after soldiers guarding him fired shots in the air to keep demonstrators at bay.

In a TV address, Abhisit said the nation was "in danger" because of unreasonable, self-serving people.

Government officials said soldiers and armored vehicles had been deployed to secure public buildings, intersections and public transportation at 50 locations throughout the city.

Authorities did not say how long the state of emergency would be in force, but Abhisit said the next three to four days would be "crucial to returning to peace."

The measure bans public gatherings of more than five people and allows security forces to detain suspects for up to 30 days without charge. Officials can also enforce strict controls on media and all other forms of communication.

This is the third time a state of emergency has been called in the capital since September 2008.

Thai police arrest protest leader

Anti-government protest leader Arisman Pongreungrong is cheered as he and others march through the 14th ASEAN Convention Center Saturday, April 11, 2009

Protest leader Arisman Pongreungrong may be feeling less victorious after his arrest

The interior ministry was stormed after Thai police arrested the leader of Saturday's anti-government protests.

Arisman Pongruengrong's arrest came as the prime minister promised to take legal action against Thaksin's supporters.

In his weekly televised address to the nation, Abhisit described the protesters as "enemies of Thailand" and vowed to bring order and peace back to the divided country.

Ongoing uncertainty

Thaksin's supporters are demanding Abhisit's resignation and new elections just four months after he took office.

Abhisit was installed as prime minister in a parliamentary vote after a court ruling removed Thaksin's allies from power in response to anti-Thaksin protesters occupying two Thai airports for a week.

Four prime ministers over the last 15 months have failed in their attempts to stabilize the country and Saturday's dramatic evacuation of foreign leaders from the ASEAN summit venue by helicopter is another embarrassment for the Thai government.

Ahead of the summit, the Thai government had given assurances that it would take whatever measures necessary to prevent such a situation. Officials have now acknowledged that security forces had failed to do just that.

Missed opportunities at cancelled summit

China's Prime Minister Wen Jiabao gestures during a media conference

Wen Jiabao was meant to announce a multi-billion dollar investment fund at the summit

The summit was meant to bring together southeast Asian leaders with ministers from China, South Korea, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to discuss the global financial crisis and North Korea's recent rocket launch.

Asian leaders were also expected to sign an investment pact with China.

China has announced an offer of $15 billion in credit to ASEAN countries and a $10 billion infrastructure investment fund.

The ASEAN meeting had already been delayed by previous clashes between anti-government and pro-government supporters.

Thai officials now say talks will be held in about two months' time.

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