Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has declared Friday a national holiday as he stands firm against the red-shirt protesters who caused traffic turmoil in Bangkok on Thursday.
Prime Minister Abhisit had flown back from Pattaya for a national TV address in the evening, as pro-Thaksin protesters blocked all entrances to Victory Monument and drastically raised the already-high political tension.
Abhisit, admitting that the anti-government protest involved as many as 100,000 people at its peak on Thursday, said 70 per cent of them had returned home, leaving about 30,000 encamped near Government House.
The remaining protesters, he said, carried out some activities that could be deemed illegal. He said the government remained committed to exercising restraint and tolerance but would proceed to take legal action against any act deemed detrimental to national security.
Abhisit was adamant that dissolving the House now would not do the Thai democracy any good, given the extreme political split and unusual situations. He also asked why the protesters are demanding his resignation while at the same time declaring that a government was “non-existent”.
He said TV Channel 11 will now serve as a station to monitor “what really happens” and inform the public of the government’s decision and action regarding the current turmoil.
Red-shirted protesters, who are taxi drivers of of the community radio clubs, parked their vehicles on all roads leading to the Victory Monument which is one of the busiest centre of Bangkok.
The anti-government protesters also onto the roads circling the monument, causing chaos. More red-shirted protesters are planning to move from the residence of Privy Council head Prem Tinsulanonda to the Victory Monument soon.
They vowed to block the access for three days if Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva did not agree to the protesters’ demands for him to resign and dissolve the House.
“Everything happened quite fast,” said a man who called The Nation in the afternoon. “When I came to the Victory Monument in the early afternoon, there was nothing. Then all of a sudden, I am now trapped and I can’t go anywhere.”
Taxi radio earlier in the day called on a gathering at the Vibhavadirangsit Soi 3, a taxi radio headquarters, “to receive instructions.”
Ramathibodi Hospital bore the blunt of the blockade, with its director going on TV asking those who planning to come to the hospital to go to other hospitals instead. She also said some patients wanting to go home were having difficulties leaving the hospital.
Red-shirted protesters also appeared at the Hua Lampong train station in the afternoon, another busy and key logistic area of Bangkok. It was not immediately clear if the intention was to stop train service. There has been no report of untoward incident at Hua Lampong Thursday night.
The red-shirted movement also held a big gathering on the Rajadamnoen Avenue around the Democracy Monument. “Very symbolic,” an observer said. “After “victory”, now “democracy”.
Many red-shirted protesters were leaving for Pattaya Thursday night with an aim to disrupt the Asean summit with dialogue partners being hosted by Thailand in the resort city. Protest leaders said they would consider it a major triumph if the summit was prevented from taking place.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said in the afternoon his government learnt in advance that red shirts protesters will block access to the Victory Monument. Arriving in Pattaya where he would host Asean Summit plus six, Abhisit said that the government already prepared how to solve the problems.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Theugsubhan echoed what Abhisit said, saying the government knew in advance of the movement.
BTS allowed stranded travellers to use the skytrain service without having to buy tickets at the Victory Monument stations. The passengers were instructed to pay at their destination stations.
Government sources said it was feared the blockade could be just the beginning, and that security forces were on alert for potential bigger trouble in the evening.
Reporters were trying to locate the last remaining members of the “Shinawatra” clan after Thaksin Shinawatra’s ex-wife Pojaman, their three children, his brother Chaisit Shinawatra and brother-in-law Somchai Wongsawat had left the country.
Somchai, however, appeared at the Government House rally Thursday night to address the crowds. He said the other Shinawatras only left the country “temporarily”.
Unconfirmed reports said Thaksin’s sisters _ Yaowapa Wongsawat and Yingluck Shinawatra _ may have also left the country.
The unconfirmed departure would leave the red-shirted movement with virtually no immediate, on-hand guidances, the sources said. This could either weaken or, on the contrary, galvanise the movement and things could get out of control.
The Nation, April 9, 2009
FURTHER SOURCES FOR READING
Red shirts step up anti-government campaign –Bangkok Post