Thailand’s prime minister told CNN he will not lift a state of emergency until he is convinced anti-government protests that flared into deadly clashes this week would not return to the capital.
Thai PM: Emergency powers to stay in
Dan Rivers, CNN Bangkok correspondent: This emergency decree is still in place. Would you have lifted it today were it not for these events?
PM Abhisit Vejjajiva: I don’t think so; I think there is still some more work we need to do. We have to make absolutely sure the capital doesn’t return to chaos and violence. We recognise full well that we don’t want too long a spell under the emergency decree, but we will move as quickly as we can to achieve what we want to do and lift it.
Dan Rivers: Any idea how long it will stay in place?
PM Abhisit Vejjajiva: Days, days I would say. Obviously depending on the turn of events, but we think we are on course to achieve order and stability and we will do as best we can to lift it.
Dan Rivers: Let’s talk about events on the weekend. When the red shirts attacked your convoy, just tell me how that was, it must have been terrifying for you personally, just tell me what happened.
PM Abhisit Vejjajiva: Well of course I was in the car, although I must say that I had two similar but maybe less serious incidents of the same kind. It was clear that they were very violent and very determined to get at me and I know people also saw some armed protesters coming in as well, but I was fortunate enough to get out of the compound.
Rivers: Was there any point at which you were scared for your life?
PM Abhisit Vejjajiva: There was no question that my life was seriously threatened.
Rivers: And so there was a moment where you seriously thought you were going to be killed?
PM Abhisit Vejjajiva: oh yes…yes.
Rivers: Since then events got worse – red-shirts were burning buses and the army had to respond – talk us through briefly how that was –are you pleased how it went for the government?
PM Abhisit Vejjajiva: I don’t think anybody could be pleased with the turn of events. I think what has happened is that about three months of tolerance and patience where we allowed the protests to continue peacefully. We thought that that approach would cool things down, obviously it didn’t and we saw signs of escalation of violence on Thursday in Bangkok and of course it was taken to Pattaya. And I think if we made an errror – obviously it was undue restraint in the belief that we could still somehow use some tolerance and patience and negotiations to calm things down. But obviously once they’ve disrupted the ASEAN meeting, a small group of protesters – I should add- not the majority of them felt that this was the way to go and they came back to Bangkok and did what they did to me on Saturday and then of course, going on a rampage. What I thought I had to do then was to stop this because you have to draw the line between the exercise of constitutional rights and just outright violence and rioting. So after the emergency decree was declared, I had called up the police and the military, gave out instructions that what I wanted was to restore order, but also made it absolutely clear that we have to avoid violence at all costs on the side of the state officials and no deaths result from our operations. The deaths reported were the result of clashes between local people and protesters and we regret that.
PM Abhisit Vejjajiva: I think it goes back to what I said earlier. We thought that after years of confrontation and clashes between state officials, security forces, police, military and protesters, we thought – you know – a relatively cool and calm period where there’s no confrontation would solve it, but clearly there was that small group of people who are very determined to provoke violence and things got out of hand.
Rivers: But you admit it was a mistake not to have come down harder at ASEAN?
PM Abhisit Vejjajiva: Well, in hindsight you might say that, but who’s to say that that if we tried to move in a tougher fashion, things wouldn’t also get out of hand, but in a tougher fashion.
Rivers: Regarding events this morning. There was an attempted asassination against the leader of the yellow shirts. People will look at that and worry. Is Thailand heading towards chaos, civil war?
PM Abhisit Vejjajiva: Well any violent incident should be a worry. We are not taking the case lightly and I have asked for a swift investigation. At the same time I want to be clear that we should not jump to conclusions and we should not allow this to lead to even more widespread confrontation and I’ve asked through a press conference –everybody to remain calm and it’s for the police to sort this out.
Rivers. Your critics would say that finally the army have shown what side they are on politically?
PM Abhisit Vejjajiva: Well let me be clear about that. I consulted with the security forces, I asked them: Why was it that last year – when the emergency decree was declared, the army did not move? State of emergency was declared twice last year. The second time I think the administration put the police in charge. The first time, they put the army chief in charge, but it was in the wrong position. They basically put pressure on him to make decisions. The way I declare state of emergency I put the deputy PM in charge so he would be responsible for these issues. The military and police were taking orders, so long as they were following orders they’d be protected. That’s the difference.
Rivers: So the difference is this time you’re in charge.
PM Abhisit Vejjajiva: Yes that’s right. And I would be responsible for whatever outcome.
Rivers: And you can assure the international community now that you have a grip on this situation and it’s not going to back to…
PM Abhisit Vejjajiva: We would do whatver we can. But everyone recognises, including myself, what we’ve done so far is only to stop the chaos, but we need to move ahead with the longer term solutions.
Rivers: Well some people say the longer term solution would be to hold an election and then the people have their choice.
PM Abhisit Vejjajiva: You know, I was asked this question before for the last few months and I have said that I have put as a priority a period of stability, carrying out our commitments to (inaudible), putting in place some basic pieces of economic policy that would protect poor people that have lost jobs from the recession and also political reform. After all my opponents are calling for the rules to be changed and if we held the elections now it would be under the existing rules which they do not support. So would it not make sense to change the rules first to everybody’s satisfaction and then let’s have the elections afterwards.
Rivers: Politically for you it might be a good time to have the election. You seem to be ahead in the polls now…
PM Abhisit Vejjajiva: Well I put the country’s interests before my own and the other concern is under this atmosphere of violence recently we don’t want that violence to carry over to the electoral process.
Rivers: So are you worried it would just be impossible to hold out an election?
PM Abhisit Vejjajiva: I wouldn’t say it would be impossible but I need to see calm and I need to see all sides be prepared to allow other people political space. You will recall that one month after I resumed office, we had 27 bi-elections, 21 of which the government won. But there were a number of contituencies where there was clearly violence or intimidation and government parties cannot go and campaign. Now we don’t want that kind of atmosphere in a general election.
I think most people would commend the Thai army. They seem to do a very good job when they finally did act but I think the criticism would be, why has it taken this long – I mean ASEAN was a fiasco, very embarrassing for China?