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After Mass Demonstrations, Unrest in Thailand Continues

April 15, 2009 at 6:40 PM EST
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After days of mass demonstrations that have left two dead and more than 100 wounded, Thai police in Bangkok maintained an uneasy state of emergency.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, in the Southeast Asian nation of Thailand, a new round of political turmoil.

There was calm with an underlying tension in Thailand’s capital today, as police and military maintained a state of emergency. They remain out in force after days of mass demonstrations and violence roiled Bangkok and the countryside.

Fighting between anti-government demonstrators and police have left two dead and more than 100 wounded. Officials are now trying to round up protest organizers.

Most embarrassing for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was the cancellation of an Asian summit, after the summit site in a rural resort was invaded by thousands of demonstrators.

These demonstrators are called the “red shirts.” And early this week in Bangkok, thousands of them threw rocks and burned vehicles. The prime minister himself narrowly escaped when his car was attacked.

ABHISIT VEJJAJIVA, prime minister, Thailand (through translator): If the demonstrators ask for acceptable demands, they can have them, and the government is ready to listen. But they have no right to break the rule of law, especially if that affects other people’s rights.

So I ask you to stop this action. If you don’t, the government has to use its power under the state of emergency.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The red shirts are supporters of the deposed Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, a multimillionaire populist who was twice elected, mainly with support from the rural poor, but who was ousted in a 2006 coup. He’s been in exile avoiding a corruption trial. This week, the Thai government revoked his passport and accused him of encouraging these protests.

As the Bangkok streets were cleaned yesterday, the sitting prime minister said the red shirt leaders would face justice.

ABHISIT VEJJAJIVA (through translator): The operation under the state of emergency is not over. There are still things to do. I insist the government will remain vigilant.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The current government came to power on the backs of its own popular uprising late last year, when yellow-shirted demonstrators lay siege to the Bangkok airport, shutting it down for a week. This group, made up of royalists, military, and the Bangkok elite, forced two prime ministers to step down before the demonstrations ended.

Then, as now, the Thai economy suffers. This week’s clashes, along with the airport shutdown in November, are expected to reduce tourism revenue by fully one-third, nearly $5.6 billion.

THANAWAT PORNSAMRIT, resort worker: It’s terrible, because everything that happened was shown around the world, so no one’s going to come on holiday.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Thai leadership and political protesters are once again reminding the world that a country thought of as a peaceful resort haven has a long history of military coups and political violence.