News / Asia

Anti-Government Protests Spread to Thai Provinces

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Anti-government protesters are blocking roads in Thailand's provinces, raising fears the political crisis may spread beyond the capital, Bangkok.  Adding to the tensions, a counter group is pushing the government to declare state of emergency in some provinces and for the military to end the protests.

The People's Alliance for Democracy wants the Thai government to declare a state of emergency in provinces dominated by the anti-government protesters known as red shirts.

On Monday, the PAD also called for the military to declare martial law in Bangkok to end seven weeks of protests led by the United Democratic Front Against Dictatorship.

Sunday, red-shirt protesters in northern provinces began blocking convoys of security forces being sent to Bangkok.

The PAD stance raises pressure in the country.  The group led campaigns to oust former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was removed in a coup in 2006, and later helped force out two pro-Thaksin governments in 2008.  

The red shirts largely support Mr. Thaksin.

Sean Boonpracong, a red shirt spokesman, says provincial supporters took the initiative to prevent the police from coming to Bangkok.

"It was not a deliberate strategy.  There are lot reds outside Bangkok who take their initiative.  And I think that, God willing, the police have cooperated with them," he said.  "There are many police units sent.  But the police are in two minds.  Some are even arriving late."

The red shirts demand new elections within three months.  The UDD claims the government is illegitimate because it was selected by parliament, not voters.

The red shirts, mostly from rural areas and the urban poor, are loyal to former prime minister Thaksin because of his policies to reduce poverty.  But Thailand's urban middle and upper classes say he was corrupt and abused his power. 

An economist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, Somphob Manarangsan, says the red shirts' civil disobedience indicates the protests are escalating.

"The conflict is going to be expanding to not only in Bangkok - even in Bangkok it is expanding - there are more demonstrations from various groups, and at the same time it is also expanding to the provincial areas; particularly in the north and northeast; that means that the conflict is going to be more difficult to be controlled," said Somphob.

At least 26 people have died in Bangkok since the red shirt protests began in March.  All but one were killed April 10th when police tried to clear a red shirt protest site.  One man died last week in grenade attacks that injured more than 80 in Bangkok's financial district.

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