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State of emergency declared in Bangkok

The Thai prime minister declared a state of emergency after one person was killed and dozens were injured in protests.

Army soldiers stand guard between pro and anti-government demonstrators after they clashed early this morning in Bangkok.
Army soldiers stand guard between pro and anti-government demonstrators after they clashed early this morning in Bangkok.

Thailand's prime minister declared a state of emergency in Bangkok today after thousands of his opponents and supporters clashed in the worst street violence here in more than a decade. One person was killed and dozens were injured, some of them from gunshot wounds, as a week of mass protests calling for the resignation of the Thai prime minister Samak Sundaravej spilt over into bloodshed overnight.

Mr Samak had previously said he would not use force to push out the thousands of protesters who have occupied the main government complex since last week, but after the violence said it was now time for them to go. "They must be moved from the Government House," Mr Samak told a nationally televised news conference. "I had no other choice but to declare a state of emergency in Bangkok in order to solve the problem for once and for all."

Mr Samak gave the army the power to break up any gathering of more than five people and to force people to leave any location, setting the stage for a showdown at the government compound, which includes the prime minister's offices. But a leader of the People's Alliance for Democracy (Pad), a well-organised movement that has been pushing for the premier to stand down after just seven months in office, urged his supporters to stay put.

"We will stay here. The government must decide whether to raid our camp or not, but by declaring a state of emergency, the government is putting Pad directly against the army," Pibhop Dhongchai said inside the heavily barricaded complex. Thai police called in army reinforcements early today to rein in the protests, setting nerves on edge in a country that has seen 18 military coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932.

"The situation's touch and go. Now with the emergency decree, we have moved to the next stage of brinkmanship," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political analyst at Chulalongkorn University. He said the Pad wanted to spark even worse violence in hopes of inciting a military coup or a mass uprising against the government. "They want to draw blood and they've come to the point where they're willing to be martyrs in order to achieve their aims," Mr Thitinan said.

Thai television showed pro- and anti-government protesters wearing helmets and carrying batons running though the streets during the night, fighting with each other and throwing rocks, as people lay bleeding on the ground. One person died and 44 were injured in the clashes, a spokesman for the national emergency centre said. Pad supporters stormed Mr Samak's Government House complex one week ago, and about 5,000 were still squatting on the grounds Tuesday morning.

The activists accuse him of acting on behalf of ousted prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who now lives in exile in Britain after the same protest group helped provoked a military coup that toppled his government in 2006. No one was killed during that coup, making this the deadliest political violence since the Bloody May massacre in 1992 when dozens of pro-democracy activists were killed on the same streets where Tuesday's protests took place. * AFP