By: Toby Cohen.
Wednesday, 3rd September 2008
exercise caution following a state of emergency being imposed in Bangkok yesterday after violent clashes between protesters.
At least one person was killed and dozens were injured as pro-government and anti-government demonstrators clashed with golf clubs, slings and pistols in the city centre early on Tuesday.
The Prime Minister, Samak Sundaravej, had said “I have a sword, but I have chosen not to use it,” in response to protesters who were calling for his government's resignation earlier in the week. The authorities estimate there to be around 30,000 protesters, apparently with an organized, well funded backing.
However, there was a surge in violence following threats from trade unions to cut off water and electricity supplies to show support for the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which has been occupying Government House for a week in protest at Mr Sundaravej’s government.
Tourists were stranded at Hat Yai airport, in the south of the country, as anti-government protests forced airport closures for the second time in recent days. Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said: “We are advising Australians to exercise a great deal of caution and if they are in Bangkok to keep away from demonstrations.”
However a British embassy spokesman said: “We are not advising people not to come.”
The state of emergency decree gives the military the right to restore order, allows authorities to suspend certain civil liberties, including travelling freely, bans public gatherings of more than five people and bars the media from reporting news that causes panic.
Military intervention has raised fears of a second coup in three years, but Gen Anupong Paochinda, the army chief, insists his forces will not take over again. However, it is thought the PAD, formed three years ago, may have some support from Thailand's armed forces.
Thailand also faces an escalation of tensions with neighbouring Cambodia, as a dispute rages over a 1,000-year-old temple on the border of the two Southeast Asian nations.
The Preah Vihear Temple straddles the Cambodian-Thai border atop the Dangrek Mountain and was listed as a World Heritage Site on July 7 by UNESCO's World Heritage Committee.
Although the site was awarded to Cambodia by the International Court of Justice in 1962, the only reliable maps of the jungle-covered region show that the temple ruins actually stand on Thai territory.
Thailand decided this week to stake its claim to the land around the site by moving in 1,500 troops and heavy artillery. Cambodia responded with a similar show of force, and the two sides now stand at an impasse as the Cambodian government spoke of an “imminent threat of war”.