- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 7, 2010

BANGKOK (AP) — Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency in Bangkok on Wednesday, handing the army broad powers to restore order after anti-government protesters broke into Parliament, forcing some lawmakers to flee by helicopter.

Other lawmakers scaled the compound’s walls to escape the most chaotic protest in several weeks of demonstrations by a group demanding Mr. Abhisit dissolve the government and call elections within 15 days. He has offered to do so by the end of the year.

“The government has tried its best to enforce the law, but violations of the law have increased,” Mr. Abhisit said in a televised statement that interrupted regular programming. “The intrusion into Parliament today led me to call an emergency meeting with the Cabinet this evening.”

The government already had placed Bangkok under the strict Internal Security Act.

But a state of emergency includes more sweeping powers. It gives the military authority to restore order and allows authorities to suspend certain civil liberties and ban all public gatherings of more than five people.

The so-called Red Shirt protesters have been camped in Bangkok since March 12 and have ignored all other decrees for them to stop their demonstrations.

Mr. Abhisit has become the target of harsh criticism for failing to take strong measures to end the protests. He has tried negotiations, and has had security forces pull back from possible confrontations.

In a broadcast statement Tuesday, he explained “The last thing we want is for the situation to spiral out of control.”

Mr. Abhisit’s government is backed by the powerful military, but some have suggested the security forces are sympathetic to the protesters’ cause and are reluctant to get tough on them. One security guard outside Parliament was thrown to the ground by protesters, who beat him and stole his weapons.

One of the most radical protest leaders, Arisman Pongruengrong, led a small group in smashing through the compound’s gate and rushing into the Parliament building while Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban and other lawmakers were still inside. But the protesters later withdrew from the building at the request of opposition legislators, their political allies.

A government security agency, known by the acronym CAPO, sent a Black Hawk helicopter carrying five soldiers armed with M-16 rifles to fly the ministers and lawmakers to safety, the agency said in a statement.

Mr. Abhisit had left Parliament before the break-in to attend a scheduled meeting. An aide, Sirichoke Sopa, said the prime minister has canceled a scheduled trip to Washington for an April 12-13 international nuclear summit.

Mr. Arisman, a former pop singer, orchestrated the takeover of a regional conference last year, forcing the evacuation of Asian leaders by helicopters and boats from a Thai seaside resort.

The Red Shirt movement — known formally as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship — contends Mr. Abhisit came to power illegitimately in the years after ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was removed in a 2006 coup on corruption allegations. The group is made up largely of Thaksin supporters and pro-democracy activists who opposed the putsch.

Associated Press writers Jocelyn Gecker, Kinan Suchaovanich and Denis Gray contributed to this report.

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