Thai parliament under siege

Ministers flee by chopper; state of emergency in Bangkok

Thai parliament under siege

Dissent in the air: A protester waves a Thai national flag inside parliament in Bangkok on Wednesday. REUTERS

The red-shirted supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra retreated from Parliament but tens of thousands remain in Bangkok’s main shopping district, refusing orders to leave until Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolves parliament.
The “red shirts” responded to the decree with defiance, exhorting followers in rural provinces to mass at city halls.

The state of emergency bans public gatherings of more than five people and gives the army broad powers to control crowds. But Abhisit said the government would not use force. “The government’s goal is to help the situation return to a normal way of life, to maintain the sanctity of the law,” he said.

The scene outside Parliament was among the most chaotic and confrontational since the sporadic protests began on March 12.Protesters massing outside gates of the sprawling complex pressed up against a line of police in full riot gear. When some “red shirts” forced open the iron gate, the police melted away and hundreds swarmed on to the grounds, including dozens packed on a truck that drove into the main entrance.

They pressed up against security forces outside the lobby doors but left after about 20 minutes only to regroup outside the gates, brandishing guns and tear-gas canisters they said were seized in scuffles with the military police.
Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban and several other ministers scaled a wall in the compound and escaped by military helicopter. Some had left before the break-in, including Abhisit.

“We have achieved our mission today,” Korkaew Pikulthong, a “red shirt” leader, told the crowd through a bullhorn.

Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij said prolonged protests could inflict damage on the economy, by causing output this year to be “significantly worse” than a government projection of 4.5 per cent growth, and possibly delay an expected interest rate rise. Another month of protests, he said, “... would be intolerable, not only to the economy as a whole but for the sanity of Bangkokians”.
Abhisit faces pressure from Bangkok’s elite and middle class and even his own government to halt the rally, but has held back to avert a confrontation many believe would cause greater damage.?

An Internal Security Act that allows troops to impose order was also extended on Wednesday for two more weeks. But there was no sign of an imminent crackdown as “red shirts” parade through the city on motorbikes, cars and pick-up trucks, waving red flags.

Army chief Anupong Paojinda, who is central in Thailand’s balance of power, said there was no justification to use force to disperse the crowds.
The “red shirts” have taken aim at the urbane, 45-year-old Oxford-educated Abhisit, whom they see as a front man for an unelected elite and military intervening in politics and operating with impunity.

They say Abhisit lacks a popular mandate after coming to power in a 2008 parliamentary vote following a court ruling that dissolved a pro-Thaksin ruling party. They want immediate elections that Thaksin’s allies would be well placed to win.
Hundreds of police guarded Abhisit’s home on Wednesday. He cancelled his trip to US next week to attend an international nuclear summit, although he planned to join a regional summit in Hanoi on Thursday.

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