State of emergency declared in Bangkok as red shirts stormed parliament compound

Prime minister Abhisit Veijajiva declaring state of emergency. Video by ThaiTVNews.blogspot.com

The anti-government protests by the red shirts are now in a critical phase as the government of prime minister Abhisit Veijajiva declared a state of emergency today. This marks so far the most significant escalation in a series of incidents in the past few days where the red shirt have increased the pressure on the government to dissolve parliament.

Earlier today a group of thousands red shirts went to parliament today and were pushing at the gates. Moments later, the gates were flung open and a group of them stormed onto the compound. Nirmal Ghosh described what set off the protestors to storm the parliament:

Apparently two “bombs” which may have been teargas canisters, were lobbed into the Red Shirt crowd, or just found in the crowd. Neither of them exploded.

But the crowd became angry and egged on by Arisman Pongruengrong, managed to barge through the gate, scuffling past outnumbered police who re-formed just outside the entrance to the main building. Some opposition Puea Thai MPs then came out and asked the Red Shirts to leave, and there was some argument.

High Noon at Thai Parliament“, by Nirmal Ghosh, The Straits Times, April 7, 2010

The “bombs” Nirmal mentioned were supposed to be tear gears canisters. A Matichon reporter asked the police about the claims:

ช่วงเวลาเดียวกันกับที่กลุ่มผู้ชุมนุมได้ทลายประตูเหล็กเพื่อบุกมายังรัฐสภา จนทำให้เจ้าหน้าที่ตำรวจหลายนายล้มระเนระนาด ทำให้กระป๋องแก๊สน้ำตาหล่นออกจากขากางเกง  เป็นเหตุให้กลุ่มผู้ชุมนุมหยิบกระป๋องแก๊สน้ำตาไปให้นายอริสมันต์บนเวทีปราศรัยทันที โดยแก๊สน้ำตาทั้ง 2 กระป๋องยังไม่ได้ใช้งาน เห็นได้จากสลักยังไม่ดึงออก

At the same moment when the protestors were trying to slam open the metal gates to the compound, many police officers were knocked to the ground, causing the tear gas canisters to fall off their pants. The protestors then grabbed them and showed it to Mr. Arisman on the (mobile) stage. The two gas canisters were not set off yet, as the rings on it were not pulled yet.

ลำดับเหตุการณ์ นาทีต่อนาที “เสื้อแดง” บุกรัฐสภา “สุเทพ” ตะกาย ฮ.หนี นปช.ใกล้ถึงตัว “ชวน”“, Matichon, 7 April, 2010

While the reds were storming the ground of the parliament, MPs had to abort a session and flee to safety by climbing over fences, like deputy prime minister Suthep Thuagsuban, and were airlifted out of the compound. Matichon reports that he was accompanied by fellow MPs, one of them armed.

The leader of this group of red shirts today, former singer Arisman Pongruengrong, is well-known to be one of the more outspoken and radical figures in the movement. He was same leader of a group that rallied and eventually stormed the building of the Electoral Commission last weekend and was also involved in the red shirts’ ambush on the ASEAN summit in Pattaya almost exactly one year ago – what happened then should still be on everybody’s mind.

And like during the incident during the weekend, there were reports of fake reds stirring up trouble.

There were reportedly some agents provocateurs among the demonstrators. Some people wearing Red Shirts were relieved of pistols and bullets by the protesters’ own security teams. They were then handed over to police.

One of the Red Shirts’ security personnel – a former policeman – was angry: “We found these weapons on people who were wearing red shirts but who don’t belong to us. So we want to know who they belong to and how did they end up on the parliament grounds? Someone is trying to shed a bad light on the Red Shirts and to incite violence.”

Thai prime minister declares state of emergency in Bangkok“, Deutsche Welle, April 7, 2010

This escalation probably broke the camel’s back as this happened then later in the evening:

Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has declared a state of emergency in Bangkok amid escalating anti-government protests.

In a televised address, Mr Abhisit said the move – which gives sweeping new powers to the security forces to tackle protesters – would help restore order.

(…) This is the fourth state of emergency in the capital since 2008.

Thailand PM declares state of emergency in Bangkok“, BBC News, April 7, 2010

Mr Abhisit said a centre for solving the emergency situation had been set up, with Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who is in charge of security affairs, as director. The centre is empowered to take action under the emergency law and enforce various orders issued under the law.

State of emergency declared“, Bangkok Post, April 7, 2010

Bangkok Pundit has a very thorough analysis of the emergency decree and what the government can and cannot do.

The situation is yet again very tense as the government, stunned by today’s actions, has turned up the heat on the protesters, a sign that their patience of diplomatic and careful handling of the red shirts is wearing thinner and thinner. The red shirts themselves showed shortly after the announcement no sign of dispersing and vowed to stay defiant. Even though a state of emergency is now declared, it is still an open question about how it will be enforced. Surely nobody wants a repeat of the Songkran riots of last year. So this also puts the spotlight on what the army will do. There are unconfirmed hints that they, with the coalition partners of the government, will abandon Abhisit.

Further reading: