09/02/2008, 00.00
THAILAND
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Bangkok, premier Samak declares a state of emergency

by Weena Kowitwanij
The decision comes in the wake of violent clashes overnight. Special powers for General Anupong Paojinda: ban on public gatherings; press freedom limited; military troops deployed. Samak is accused of being a puppet in the hands of ex premier Thaksin. The Church in Thailand is concerned over limits on the press and lack of dialogue between the two sides.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) –Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej Samak Sundaravej announced a State of Emergency after pro and anti government groups clashed overnight resulting in the death of one person.  The emergency powers hand full control of public order over to the army for an indefinite period of time.  Public gatherings of more than 5 persons are forbidden and the press has been banned from publishing reports which “under mine public security”.  Special powers have been given to General Anupong Paojinda.

The premier’s decision was forced by overnight clashes between members of the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) who supported Samak and members of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) who are calling for him and his government to resign.  The PAD has led a protest lasting 100 days, the last 7 days in front of the Government House. 43 were injured during the nocturnal clashes of which 3 are in serious condition.  One person, Narongsak Kobthaisong died at the hospital.

The PAD says it will challenge the state of emergency and its leaders have promised to continue their sit-in in front of the government buildings.

At the origins of the crises which has been building up for months, are PAD accusations that the premier is a mere puppet in the hands of former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was forcibly removed two years ago (September 2006) by a state coup and is currently in self imposed exile in London.

The current premier, and leader of the governing party (member of the UDD coalition), attempted to change the laws which led to charges against ex premier Thaksin; one of his allies, Yongyuth Tiyapairat, was charged with buying votes during the last election and now his case is before the appeals court.  The PAD also accuses the UDD and its leader of attempting to install a dictatorship without democracy and of aiming to remove the monarchy.

P. Vorayuth Kitbamrung, Director of Catholic Social Communications of Thailand has expressed his concerns over limits on the press. “The freedom of the press should be granted – he tells AsiaNews - and at the same time journalists should bear in mind to report only the truth, not their own opinions”.

“Of course, the Church in Thailand – he continues - always rejects the use of violence of any kind and from any party.  We support solidarity among Thai people as every party claimed that what they did was for the benefit of the country, religion and the King.  What they really need is a sincere dialogue and respect in their differences”.

“Thai Church – he concludes - invites the faithful to pray for understanding, peace and the justice in society”.

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