Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej declared a
state of emergency in the capital Bangkok after overni-ght clashes between pro-
and anti-government demonstrators left one person dead and dozens wounded. As
Ron Corben reports from the capital, the military was called into help the
police force break up the street violence.
Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej says the state of emergency will be in place for only three days. Under the decree, gatherings of more than five people are banned, the news media are barred from reporting anything that might damage stability and security forces can block access to buildings as necessary.
Public schools have been shut for the next few days. However, most of Bangkok is calm and local train service and buses are operating normally.
Mr. Samak rejects the demands by the People's Alliance for Democracy that he resign. Courts have ordered the PAD to end its weeklong siege of government buildings, but the group's leaders have encouraged an estimated five thousand demonstrators to remain where they are.
There are fears that the violence will worsen, or that unions will make good on their threat to cut off utilities in parts of Bangkok, halt city bus services and blockade more airports.
Thitinan Pongsudirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, fears the tensions will spread beyond the capital.
"The worst case scenario for us is uncontrollable widespread nationwide civil strife and bloodshed," said Thitinan.
The army has been called in to help the police in Bangkok, giving rise to fears of another coup, although military commanders have downplayed such talk.
After months of anti-government protests, in September 2006, the military ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The anti-government protesters say Mr. Samak acts for Mr. Thaksin, who recently fled to Britain to avoid corruption charges. He says he has done nothing wrong and says the judiciary is biased against him.
Thailand's political landscape has been deeply divided since Mr. Thaksin was elected in 2001. The urban middle class accuses him of corruption and abuse of power, but his economic programs won him wide support among the urban and rural poor.
Also Tuesday, the national election commission voted to ask Thailand's constitutional court to dissolve Mr. Samak's People Power Party. The commission alleges that a leader of the PPP bought votes in last year's national election.
It is not clear if the court will dissolve the PPP.
There are signs the political turmoil is affecting the economy. The main stock index has lost more than 23 percent since the anti-government protests began in May. And around Asia, travelers this week are canceling plans for vacations in Thailand - tourism is a major component of the economy.
Over the past few days, the national rail system has largely been shut down by strikes, while protesters have occupied the runways at regional airports that are heavily used by tourists. As a result, thousands of foreign tourists, mostly Europeans and Asians, were stranded.