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Thai Government to Declare State of Emergency at Bangkok Airports


Thailand's Cabinet plans to declare a state of emergency around two Bangkok airports to end opposition blockades. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok the failure to break the political deadlock has led to increased fears of violence between pro and anti-government supporters.

Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat's Cabinet made the decision to impose emergency law at the airports in a meeting Thursday in the northern city of Chiang Mai.

Thousands of protestors led by the People's Alliance for Democracy occupy the international and domestic airports at Bangkok, halting all flights.

Kudeb Saikrajang, a spokesman for the governing People's Power Party (PPP), says the plan is to create an emergency zone around the airports. The question, however, is whether security forces will enforce the decision.

"The government has to order the law enforcement officers to do their duty to clear the area. But whether the law enforcement officers will do their duty by the order of the government - I don't know," Kudeb said.

The PAD leaders ignored calls by the prime minister and the Thai army chief to end the occupation of the international airport, which began Tuesday, and the blockade of the domestic airfield, which started Thursday.

The army chief also has called on the prime minister to dissolve parliament and call new elections, which Mr. Somchai says he will not do.

Thousands of passengers have had travel plans disrupted. The Thai news media and members of the tourism industry have widely criticized the PAD.

But PAD spokesman Parnthep Pourpongpan says the occupation will continue until the prime minister resigns. Mr. Somchai rejects that demand, saying his government is democratically elected.

"We don't worry about [the public backlash] because we follow the constitution - we still have a right to continue our rally peacefully. That is what we are doing - we are going to fight for," Parnthep said.

The government also says the situation may force it to cancel the annual meeting of the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The meeting is to be held next month in Chiang Mai.

The PAD's steadfast stance adds to fears of increasing clashes with government supporters. In recent days several small explosions have occurred in Bangkok and there have been sporadic battles between groups. Small blasts at a PAD compound in the city have killed two protesters and injured scores.

Many political analysts and Thai citizens express fear that violence would push the military to step in, leading to widespread bloodshed or a takeover.

The PAD accuses Mr. Somchai of acting as a proxy for his brother-in-law, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. He was ousted in a coup two years ago after being accused by the urban middle class of corruption and authoritarianism. Mr. Thaksin fled Thailand in August just before a court sentenced him to two years in jail for corruption.

But he remains popular with the urban working class and in rural areas because of his populist economic policies.

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