Clashes Force State Of Emergency In Thailand
The Prime Minister of Thailand, Samak Sundaravej, has declared a state of emergency in Bangkok after a violent clash Tuesday night between anti-government and pro-government crowds that left at least one dead.
Several thousand anti-government protestors from the People's Alliance for Democracy continue to occupy the grounds of Government House — the prime minister's office — demanding that he resign.
The embattled prime minister told reporters Tuesday that he had no choice but to declare a state of emergency, describing it as the "softest means available" to end the violence in the country.
"Life will be going on as usual," Samak said. "But we have right to do something for those who perform what has happened in the prime minister's office. That's the only way to solve the problem. We have to declare emergency."
Life did pretty much go on as usual — the streets of the capital were choked with the usual assortment of cars, buses, motorcycles and tuk-tuks — as did the weeklong anti-government protest at Government House. The protest has drawn thousands — sometimes tens of thousands — daily.
The atmosphere at Government House remained festive despite the declaration of the state of emergency, with the speakers as adamant as ever that Prime Minister Samak step down, accusing him of corruption and of being a proxy for deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is now in exile in London.
The state of emergency gives the army sweeping powers to restore order, including banning public gatherings of more than five people, but the army chief said Tuesday that he had no intention of using force to remove the protestors at Government House.
"We were expecting some military to actually disperse us," said protest leader Sondhi Limthonkul. "But fortunately, the army commander in chief, General Anupong [Paojinda], has said quite clearly that the army would not use force against the people. And I think I would believe him."
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of security and international studies at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, says the army's reluctance to play the heavy is understandable.
"It has perpetrated violence against street protestors in October 1976, in May 1992 — and the last coup in 2006 was mishandled, was not very effective," Thitinan said. "So the army is reluctant, for these two main reasons, to be involved again."
Thitinan says the army must find a way to avoid violence while maintaining law and order, and while reining in the People's Alliance for Democracy [PAD], made up largely of Thailand's traditional urban-and-political elite.
"This is a limited, narrow minority that is taking the entire country hostage," Thitinan said. "But if you crack down on them, there could be widespread repercussions — people could join them. At the same time, if you budge and let them get away with this, then could be blow to Thai democracy. I think somehow we are looking for some sort of compromise. What that means is that government has to take a step back and PAD has to also allow some way out."
But middle ground is something that seems increasingly difficult to find.
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