The Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej imposed a state of emergency in Bangkok after clashes on Monday night between government supporters and opponents, in which at least one person died and more than 40 were injured. The prime minister has refused to resign despite the demands of thousands of anti-government protesters.
Thai soldiers in riot gear as a state of emergency is declared
The declaration of the state of emergency in the early hours of Tuesday followed a night of bloodshed after pro-government demonstrators broke through police lines to attack anti-government groups.
At least one anti-government demonstrator was killed in the clashes and dozens were injured -- many receiving serious head injuries. TV footage showed men with sticks and bars clubbing and kicking individuals.
The violence and declaration of the state of emergency came after a week-long civil disobedience campaign by the anti-government People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). The PAD has occupied the grounds of the government’s main administration building and refuses to vacate the grounds despite court orders calling on them to do so.
3-day emergency decree
On Thai national television, officials explained that the emergency decree would only be in place for three days. The decree bans gatherings of more than five people, restricts news reports that could perceivably damage stability and allows the security forces to prevent access to buildings. Public schools have also been shut for the next several days.
The enforcement of the decree is being overseen by the Thai Army chief as well as a senior police official acting as his deputy. The army vowed last week it would not used force against the demonstrators.
The decree and the violence have drawn criticism from the main opposition Democrat Party. “For the past three days we have repeated many times that the use of violence should be avoided at all costs. However, the government chose to crackdown on the peaceful demonstrations. This escalated into clashes early this [Tuesday] morning, resulting in several injured and one person dying,” said party spokesman Buranaj Samitharak.
The bloodshed came despite a joint parliament debate on Sunday, which had been hailed as a possible attempt to defuse the tensions, but failed when the main coalition parties, led by Mr. Samak’s People Power Party, said they would back the prime minister.
“This is a predicament for Samak because we had an election eight months ago. The PPP won the election and he’s been in power just seven months and he’s unwilling to resign or dissolve the house at this time. The PAD is piling more pressure on Samak to resign by using anarchy and holding Thailand hostage,” explained Thitinan Pongsudirak, a political scientist from Chulalongkorn University.
Rising concerns about economy
Concerns about the national economy and the potential damage it could suffer if political tensions continue are increasing. The stock market has already fallen by over 23 per cent since May due to the political uncertainties.
In recent days, civil action by the PAD has disrupted several airports in key tourist destinations and rail transport has been disrupted by railway workers, who back the calls for the prime minister to resign, refusing to work.
Trade unions at state-owned enterprises are threatening to cut the power in key areas on Wednesday.