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Thai Police Take First Steps to Enforce State of Emergency and End Airport Protests

Thai police have called for anti-government protesters to vacate the main airports in Bangkok, which the group seized earlier this week. Ron Corben has this report from Bangkok, where the government has declared a state of emergency around the airports.

Thousands of anti-government protesters occupying the international and domestic airports in the capital were bracing Friday against efforts by security forces to end the occupation.

Leaders of the People's Alliance for Democracy on Friday said they remain determined to press on with the protest despite the threat of police action and a growing loss of public support.

The police say they want to negotiate with the PAD, but it is possible they will use force to clear the terminals. There is concern about violence, particularly because there are children among the protesters.

Sunai Pasuk, the Thai representative for Human Rights Watch, says the government realizes the world is watching the situation.

"No one I believe in the outside world and the majority of the Thai public - no one is siding with the PAD. [But] they don't want to see a massacre at Don Muang and Suvanabhumi airport. The police need to take incremental steps," he said.

Sunai says the government is offering the PAD an exit strategy by allowing the alliance to return to the government house compound which it seized in late August.

"If they want to continue the protest - well go ahead - and this is a very deliberate decision not to declare a state of emergency at the government house as well. The government has thought through very carefully this time by providing an exit and if the PAD still refuses to take this opportunity then things can get [a] little ugly," he said.

Thousands of travelers have been stranded by the protest, which is costing the economy millions of dollars in lost revenue. The airport blockades particularly hurt the tourism industry, a cornerstone of the Thai economy.

The government is using airports just outside Bangkok to move passengers, but only a limited number of flights have taken off. Efforts also are under way to transport up to five thousand Thai Muslims traveling to Saudi Arabia for the Haj.

On Thursday Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat declared a state of emergency at the airports. He has rejected calls by the military and the PAD for him to resign.

Around the city this week there have been sporadic outbursts of violence between the PAD and government supporters. An anti-government TV station and a pro-government community radio station have suffered attacks.

Naishinawatra Parboonpart is the manager of the community radio station, run by a taxi radio service. He expects police to move against the PAD protest later Friday.

He says extra police have been brought in from the provinces and they will move quickly and once the airports are reopened it will be better for the nation.

The PAD accuses Mr. Somchai of acting as a proxy for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who fled Thailand in August in the face of corruption charges. He was ousted in a coup two years ago.

Many Thais speculate that the military may stage a coup, although senior military officers have denied it plans to unseat the government. Pro-Thaksin supporters have vowed to challenge the army if there is a coup.