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Thai PM declares emergency rule
Embattled leader cracks down after weeklong protest turns deadly.
Last Modified: 02 Sep 2008 08:10 GMT

At least four of the dozens wounded were said to be in serious condition [AFP]

Thailand's prime minister has declared emergency rule after protests in the capital turned deadly.

At least one person was killed and dozens wounded in Bangkok as police and both pro- and anti-government protesters clashed overnight on Monday.

That was enough for Samak Sundaravej to suspend some civil liberties and give the army control of public order in Bangkok on Tuesday.

Under the sweeping emergency powers announced on television and radio, all public gatherings in the capital are banned and restrictions have been imposed on media reports that "undermined public security".

"There is an urgent need to solve all these problems quickly. Therefore the prime minister declares a state of emergency in Bangkok from now on," the announcement read.

Soldiers deployed

Around 400 soldiers armed with batons and shields were sent to back up police struggling to contain the street battles in the worst violence since the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) launched its street campaign against the prime minister in May.

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Thailand's political crisis

Kudeb Saikrachang, a spokesman for Samak's People Power party, told Al Jazeera that the party had "no part" in the violence.

"We don't support violent means whatsoever," he added.

By sunrise on Tuesday, General Jongrak Jutanond, Bangkok's police chief, said "the situation is now under control".

Some schools were shut in Bangkok on Tuesday, but morning rush-hour traffic was flowing as normal and the airport, the main gateway for foreign tourists visiting one of Asia's top holiday destinations, remained open.

Regaining control

Samak called emergency rule the "softest means available" for restoring calm.

In a nationally televised news conference on Tuesday, he gave no timeframe for how long the decree would stay in effect but said it would be over "moderately quickly".

Government opponents and supporters clashed overnight on Monday [EPA]
The prime minister had said last week that he had hoped to avoid declaring an emergency, but said he was left with little choice after violence erupted.

"I did it to solve the problems of the country," he said. "Because the situation turned out this way, I had no other choice."

Al Jazeera's Selina Downes, reporting from Bangkok, said the emergency law gave the prime minister absolute control over the situation, as he had made himself defence minister when he was elected in January and was therefore in charge of the military.

The state of emergency gives Samak special powers outside of the constitution to deploy police and soldiers on the streets to quell protests.

Our correspondent said there had been mounting pressure on the government to get a handle on the increasingly chaotic situation.

The PAD had been in the driving seat after storming and occupying the Government House compound a week ago and many analysts said there had appeared no other way out of the situation.

Strike threat

On Monday, the PAD had announced that its supporters in state enterprise unions would cut off water, electricity and phone service to government offices as part of a "general strike" set for Wednesday.

"There are not enough jails to put us all into"

Chamlong Srimuang, anti-government protest leader

Alliance supporters said they also would delay departures of flights of the national airline.

They were already disrupting rail service and planned to cut back public bus transportation as well.

Samak has repeatedly said he would not be bullied by a mob into resigning or dissolving parliament and calling fresh elections.

Leaders of the anti-government protest movement that has occupied the prime minister's official compound for the past week said they would not budge.

"There are not enough jails to put us all into," Chamlong Srimuang, one of the leaders of the PAD that is leading the anti-government protests, told thousands of supporters inside the compound camped in behind makeshift barricades of razor wire and car tyres.

Samak's announcement blamed unnamed people for "wreaking havoc" and undermining the economy and national unity.

Thais Al Jazeera spoke to were angry and frustrated that they were "back to square one" two years after Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a military coup after weeks of street protests against the then prime minister.

Party under threat

Meanwhile, Samak's government came under even more pressure on Tuesday as the country's election commission voted to recommend the Supreme Court disband his People Power party (PPP) for election fraud.

The commission found the PPP guilty of buying votes during last December's general election, Sumate Uppanisakorn, a commissioner, said.

Al Jazeera's correspondent reported many were saying that the unanimous vote by the five-member commission could be the beginning of the end of the PPP.

Tuesday's move was reminiscent of the court dissolving Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party last year, which later regrouped under the PPP flag.

It could be months before the court implements any ruling against the PPP, but if it agrees to disband the party, up to 33 senior PPP members, including Samak and Surapong Suebwonglee, the finance minister, would lose their jobs and be barred from politics for five years.

Thai newspapers have reported that the PPP is preparing for the worst and lining up a new "shell" party to admit all its MPs, who could try to cobble together another coalition government.

Kudeb Saikrachang, the PPP spokesman, told Al Jazeera that party MPs already had another party in mind in case the PPP were to be dissolved.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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