04/08/2010, 00.00
THAILAND
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Bangkok: more red-shirt protests after state of emergency is declared

by Weena Kowitwanij
Protest leaders call on supporters to travel to Bangkok to celebrate Thai New Year and victory over the government. Abhisit announces road map for new elections to be held at the end of the year, seeks military support. About 78 per cent of the people want peace in the country.
Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Thailand’s ‘red-shirts’ have announced more demonstrations on Friday in response to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s declaration of a state of emergency. Leaders from the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), which is close to exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, have urged their supporters across the country to meet in Bangkok to celebrate Thai Mew Year (Songkran festival), scheduled for 12-15 April, and the movement’s victory over the government.

Hope for a solution to the political crisis that has held the country in its grip appears to be fading fast. Anti-government protesters who took to the streets on 12 March have called for new elections with parliament dissolved within two weeks. Prime Minister Abhisit has responded by proposing a road map that would see the lower house of parliament dissolved by 6 December of this year and new rules adopted to allow for “free and peaceful” elections. Despite direct talks, the two sides have failed to reach an agreement.

Prime Minister Abhisit yesterday declared a state of emergency in Bangkok, Nonthaburi and some districts in the provinces of Samutprakarn, Nakhon Pathom, Pathumtthanee and Ayudhaya.

Thai authorities have blacked out a satellite TV station close to the Red Shirts.

The prime minister has said he intends to restore peace, stop disinformation that could lead to more violence, prosecute some protest leaders and prevent sabotage. Government sources said plans are discussed to involve “military leaders” in the operations.

The military and police are crucial to holding power in Thailand. However, the military has already said it would not use force, favouring dialogue to convince demonstrators to go home on a free return ticket.

After seizing parliament yesterday, and forcing Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban and other cabinet members to flee, red-shirt leaders announced more protests for the coming days. UDD Secretary General Nattavut SaiKoe appealed to party supporters across the country to travel to the capital “to celebrate the Songkran festival and the red-shirt victory”.

In the meantime, early data on the impact of the protest movement have been issued, especially concerning the economy. Businesses have suffered major losses in the first two days of the protest, about 200 to 300 million baht (about US$ 6 million) a day. Tourism could lose up to ten billion baht.

Thailand is getting ready to celebrate Thai New Year on 12-15 April. Everyone is hoping that festivities will be conducted in peace and harmony. A recent public opinion poll shows that 78 per cent of respondents want to see peace restored to the country.

Everyone hopes that traditions will be respected, and that people will visit Buddhist temples to carry out the ritual of pouring water over the statue of the Buddha and one another.

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