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Thai army chief resists use of force against protesters PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 03 September 2008

The Guardian Online

Thailand's army chief said today he would refrain from using force to break up anti-government protests, despite the state of emergency declared hours after one demonstrator was killed and dozens injured in violent clashes.

General Anupong Paojinda said he had decided on a softly-softly approach, fearing that hardline measures would create greater problems.

It left the prime minister, Samak Sundaravej, in an awkward position shortly after he announced sweeping curbs on civil liberties to maintain calm.
Samak empowered the army to restore order on the streets of Bangkok after fighting between his supporters and those demanding he quit - the worst violence seen since the anti-government campaign began in May.
The dramatic turn came after 400 troops in riot gear were deployed to separate mobs brandishing clubs and sticks as they fought a brief pitched battle on the broad avenue that runs outside the regional headquarters of the United Nations. Shots were fired by several protesters.
In the turmoil of Thai politics, the prime minister is faced with the prospect of his eight-month-old coalition being dissolved after the country's election commission recommended today that the constitutional court disband his ruling People Power party for electoral fraud. The implications will take months to play out.
Earlier, Samak declared emergency rule in morning broadcasts, branding it the "softest means possible". He gave no timescale but said it would be over relatively quickly.
Samak said he had hoped to avoid emergency rule, but the rising violence that left one dead and 43 injured - three from gunshot wounds - had forced his hand. "No one has the right to do such a thing as they have done," he said. "I had no other choice but to declare a state of emergency in Bangkok in order to solve the problem once and or all."
Samak gave the army's commander-in-chief sole responsibility for enforcing emergency rule in the capital, saying troops would assist the police in ensuring calm.
The order gave the army chief powers to detain and remove people from any location, deploy soldiers on the streets, censor media reports that could "undermine public security" and ban gatherings of more than five people.
Anupong shied away from using any heavy-handed measures to clear the Government House compound that houses the offices of the prime minister, which have been occupied by protesters for eight days.
Inside the compound, thousands of People's Alliance for Democracy demonstrators - clad in yellow shirts to show allegiance to the revered monarchy - secured the gates with steel hawser, and helmets, makeshift riot shields and golf clubs lay ready in piles.
They have vowed to remain and see off any move to clear the compound, which has taken the air of a carnival replete with food stalls crossed with a political rally ringing with stirring speeches from the stage.
"We have just announced that we must continue the rally [at Government House]," said a PAD spokesman today. "We want democracy. We want the prime minister to resign from his post."
Soldiers initially patrolled the streets around the UN headquarters, where the avenue had been strewn with rocks and debris from the night's trouble. By day, the soldiers withdrew to barracks and only rows of police vans remained, all other evidence of the violence swept away.
The violence flared after red-shirted pro-government supporters from the Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship marched through Bangkok in the early hours and clashed with the PAD at their barricades of razor wire and tyres near the compound.
Singapore and South Korea have advised their nationals not to travel to Thailand unless absolutely necessary, threatening to further disrupt the country's vital tourist industry.

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