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Thai premier declares state of emergency to halt unrest

THAI Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency yesterday to quell political unrest and threatened to take tough action against protesters who were gathering in greater numbers in Bangkok.

Troops fired into the air when anti-government protesters stormed the Interior Ministry later in the day. The crowds mobbed the prime minister's car and beat it with clubs as he drove away from the ministry.

Supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra triggered the emergency when they stormed the venue of an Asian summit in the southern resort of Pattaya, forcing the government to cancel the meetings.

After declaring victory there, the "red shirt" Thaksin supporters were gathering throughout the day at Government House in central Bangkok. By noon they numbered around 40,000.

In his nightly phone-in to the demonstration, Thaksin said now was the "golden time" for the protesters to rise up against the government after soldiers deployed on Bangkok streets. Thaksin is in voluntary exile somewhere abroad.

Thaksin repeated his call for a "people's revolution" and said he was ready to move back to Thailand to lead a people's uprising if there was a coup.

Thailand has seen 18 coups since 1932.

Abhisit appeared on television to warn Thaksin's supporters they faced tough measures under the state of emergency.

"We want to ask you to stop such action. It is necessary for the government to adopt the measures allowed in the emergency decree, in order to get the nation back to peace," Abhisit said.

Some armored vehicles have appeared on the streets but no action has been reported.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who oversees security, urged the military and police to restore order as soon as possible. "Your superiors and I will take responsibility for all your actions," he said.

Some anti-government protesters had disabled the tracks of two armored cars near police headquarters. Others danced on top of the vehicles.

An army spokesman said the public should not be alarmed to see such vehicles. This was not a coup, but part of the security measures Abhisit had ordered, he said.

Up to 300 police with riot shields were deployed about 200 meters from the demonstration at Government House - the focus of protests since late March.

Leaders of the pro-Thaksin United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship said they were holding one of Abhisit's security guards, claiming he had shot dead a protester at the interior ministry.

Witnesses saw no one shot and Abhisit's spokesman, Thepthai Senpong, dismissed it as propaganda.

Speaking from a makeshift stage, UDD leader Jakrapob Penkair said the Thaksin supporters were ready to defend themselves.

"They are trying to force us into a people's war. We will bring more people to Government House because the best way to defend ourselves is with numbers," he said.

Police said they had arrested Arismun Pongreungrong, a popular singer prominent in the UDD's disruption of the ASEAN summit, and were holding him at a police station north of Bangkok.

Thaksin's supporters say Abhisit became premier last December only because of parliamentary defections which the army engineered.


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