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Thailand in a state of emergency -

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Thailand in a state of emergency

The World Today - Tuesday, 2 September , 2008 12:20:00

Reporter: Eleanor Hall

ELEANOR HALL: Overseas now...

Thailand's Prime Minister has declared a state of emergency in the capital, Bangkok, as protests
against him turn violent. Fifteen thousand protesters demanding the Prime Minister's resignation
took over the government compound last week.

But overnight, pro and anti-government protesters clashed. And at least one person was killed and
dozens more were injured. The city is now in lock down, with all public gatherings banned, the
media restricted and soldiers given police powers to enforce the state of emergency.

Our correspondent Karen Percy joins us now in Bangkok. Karen you're down close to the government
complex where the protesters have taken control; how tense is it?

KAREN PERCY: There's a lot of anxiety, there's a great deal of anticipation here. Numbers are down
from what we have seen over the past couple of days. I suspect there are somewhere between five and
10 thousand as opposed to the 15 to 20 thousand we have seen in the past week. That's partly I am
guessing because there is a bit of fear over what is going to happen but also it's wet and rainy
here this morning.

But also while we're seeing people leaving we're also seeing people come.

That's what's been happening here is as that as soon as the government lays down some kind of law,
some kind of ultimatum it does resolve people and they do arrive and they are starting to trickle

But we've also seen the police retreat entirely from this area. Just an hour ago this whole area
was shut off to traffic because of riot police. Now they have gone. So you do get a sense while
there is this sense of normality here that it is the lull before the storm.

ELEANOR HALL: What does the Government expect to achieve by imposing a state of emergency?

KAREN PERCY: Well really it is going to take the army to move these people along; the police have
shown they've been unable to maintain any kind of control of this situation. That is what happened
last night is that pro government protesters moved out from their site a little way away from here,
managed to make their way, barge their way through a police cordon and meet up with the
anti-government demonstrators.

As well on Friday you saw the police try to go in enact a court order and move people on, they also
tried to arrest the nine leaders but there was such a kafuffle there and they got into such trouble
I guess because the publicity was very bad seeing these little old ladies, a lot of them; being
dragged away of even hit by batons.

So there is a concern that the police haven't been able to do the job and now with the army and
you're able to suspend ordinary civil protection but this will be the way to end this crisis.

ELEANOR HALL: So Karen who are these anti-government protesters? You mentioned little old ladies?

KAREN PERCY: Well this is called the People's Alliance for Democracy. These are well educated
primarily Bangkok based people. There are a lot of academics, there are communists, there are
students, there are little old ladies and I've spoken to a number of them who've been here ever
since the beginning since they stormed Government House on Tuesday.

It's a very strange mix of people but essentially their position is that Prime Minister Samak
Sundaravej bought this election through vote buying and duping the poor rural, ill-educated voters.
And it is known to a part of the pro-government supporters we've seen as well so, there really has
been a great deal of division in this country, this is not going to end even when these people are
moved on.

ELEANOR HALL: Is there any sense of a Philippine-style people power developing here?

KAREN PERCY: This is not a mass movement by any means, we're looking at a number of hardcore people
and yes we are seeing comings and goings of people supporting. But this is not something that most
Thai's support either side here.

They don't like to see confrontation, but these are very very determined people. They are very very
smart people a lot of them, very highly educated. So it is not at all a people power movement but
it is a very determined one and the fact that they've got this far seven days into this part of
their rally bearing in mind they actually began their campaign 101 days ago.

They are absolutely determined to get Mr Samak and his government out.

ELEANOR HALL: There's also talk that the unions are now threatening to cut off water and power to
the Government unless the Prime Minister goes, how much pressure is now on the Government?

KAREN PERCY: It's huge and that's why I think this pus has come to shove. Yes unionist have been
very much involved in this campaign as well and we're now hearing that 200 000 state workers, state
enterprise workers are being urged to go off the job tomorrow.

Now that could include Thai airlines. It is likely to include the power and water utilities and if
that happens, if ordinary people's water and electricity are cut off, that is going to cause a huge
amount of resentment here, but if it's targeted at the Government then they will be forced to do

But I get the sense that something's going to happen before then, how bloody and how violent that
gets and how much resistance the army, the people here put up to the army is really what's going to
give us an idea of what happens next.

ELEANOR HALL: Now Karen the King is always an important player in Thai politics. Has the king

KAREN PERCY: Not at all, he is apolitical technically, but we do get a sense of what he wants
through other avenues. On Friday for example Princess Sirindhorn, the crowned princess, came out
saying she was very concerned about the protest, wanted to see unity and she said she wanted to
ensure the ambulances were on stand-by for the people and that the protesters would get good

So while we can't read that to be exactly what the King is saying, it is an indication that the
King is concerned. He has met the Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, we don't know what happened
between those two conversations but people here saying they're doing this for their king.

But it seems very, really very difficult to imagine that the King would be behind this or would be
supporting this but he's certainly concerned about it.

ELEANOR HALL: Karen Percy in Bangkok, thank you.