10/08/2008, 00.00
THAILAND
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Apparent calm in Bangkok, army patrols streets of capital

The violent clashes yesterday between police and demonstrators caused the deaths of two people, and wounded at least 443 more, some of them seriously. Prime Minister Somchai rejects the idea of his resignation, and accuses the demonstrators of "violence"; the opposition calls him a liar and a "tyrant."

Bangkok (AsiaNews) - It is an apparent calm that reigns today in the streets of Bangkok, secured by police and army patrols deployed all over this city to bring back order after yesterday's protests. The tally from the clashes between demonstrators and agents reads like a war bulletin: two dead and 443 wounded, some of them seriously; eight people have required the amputation of one or more of their limbs because of injuries received during the clashes. The victims are a woman who died from internal injuries, and a man killed by a car bomb that blew up near parliament.

Yesterday, opposition representatives and members of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) gathered in front of parliament to block new Thai prime minister Somchai Wongsawat, who was preparing to give a speech to the assembly. In order to open an escape route for the prime minister, police used tear gas and cleared the obstacles along his way, provoking the reaction of demonstrators.

Today, Somchai he visited a hospital where he met with about 20 policemen, hospitalized because of injuries they suffered during the clashes; he defended the use of force and emphasized that the violence was the direct consequence of protests "whose nature was not peaceful or unarmed," as demonstrators maintained. These accusations are rejected by the leaders of the PAD, who reiterate that "the government is illegitimate," and that its representatives are "tyrants," for which reason they will continue their struggle "until the entire executive branch resigns."

The violence was described in alarming tones in the country's media: the English-language newspaper The Nation speaks of "a mini civil war," which caused "a bloodbath" in Bangkok, while the Bangkok Post says that the country "is on the brink of anarchy."

In the meantime, the military is maintaining a neutral position, giving assurances that "there will be no state coup" to gain power; this is a real threat for the Thai people, who have witnessed 18 army coups from 1932 - the year in which the absolute monarchy was abolished - until today.

Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, in addition to reaffirming that he will not leave his post, assured the international community that Thailand "is a resilient society and has been able to weather political storms in the past with great strength," and that the current problems facing the country will be "resolved through a democratic process."

Opposition leader Abhisit Vejjachiva explains his refusal to go to parliament yesterday, saying that "Somchai promised to use dialogue instead of violation to dissolve the protesters but the action is just opposite from what he said so we are not confident in his words until he comes out to take responsibility for this morning's event." Phra Mah Vudthichai, director of the monastic institute of Vimuttayalai, calls for a "return to peace," and invites his fellow citizens to follow the philosophy of "nonviolence" that is at the basis of the teachings of Buddhism.

Weena Kowitwanij contributed to this report

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