Tuesday 16 July 2019

Bangkok in state of emergency as 'coup' riots flare

Richard Lloyd Parry in Bangkok

THE Thai capital was bracing itself for more unrest last night, despite the declaration of a state of emergency, after one man was shot dead and scores were injured in street battles between supporters and opponents of Samak Sundaravej, the Thai prime minister.

The emergency decree came at the end of a week of increasing instability in Bangkok, where opponents of Mr Samak are trying to force him from power.

But the commander of the army insisted that he would not use force to remove thousands of demonstrators who have taken over the prime minister's compound in a brazen display of anti-Government disobedience.

There is likely to be disruption at airports and on railways as unions promised to strike today in solidarity with the protesters.

To add to the crisis, a Government commission ruled that Mr Samak's People's Power Party should be dissolved because of election fraud perpetrated last year by one of its leaders.

If the order is upheld it could lead to a general election, Thailand's fourth in four years, and further exacerbate the confrontation.

"I did this to douse the fire, not to cause a fire," Mr Samak said in a televised press conference at the military headquarters, where he has been forced to relocate since being driven out of Government House by anti-Government demonstrators.

But army chief, Anupong Paochinda, discouraged expectations of a crackdown, adding to the impression that the army and Government have different priorities in resolving the crisis. "If we thought that we could use the police and soldiers to get the protesters out with a peaceful conclusion, then we would do it," he said.

"But we think that that would create more problems." (©The Times, London)

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