Thai leader declares emergency in capital

Thailand's prime minister declared a state of emergency in the capital today after street fighting overnight between supporters and opponents of the government left one man dead and dozens injured.

The violence – the most serious since the protests began – followed a threat by state workers to cut off water, electricity and phone service at government offices and disrupt flights of the national airline in support of protesters trying to bring down Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej.

An announcement broadcast on all Thai television stations at 7 a.m. said Samak had decreed a state of emergency in Bangkok.

The measure allows the use of military forces in policing activities, limits public gatherings, bans news reports that could instigate violence, and allows security officials to clear public roads, buildings and other areas. It would also permit the military to immediately oust the protesters occupying the prime minister's premises.

A week of political tension exploded into violence early this morning between protesters seeking to topple Samak and mobs of his supporters.

About 500 Samak supporters marched through the streets proclaiming they were going to retake the prime minister's office compound, which has been occupied since Aug. 26 by the People's Alliance for Democracy.

The mob scuffled with police about halfway to the Government House complex, then battled with alliance members, both sides wielding sticks and clubs.

Police were unable to stop the fighting, which eased up only after army troops with riot gear – but no guns – reached the scene.

Although the troops were able to keep the antagonists apart, few supporters of either side dispersed, keeping the area a flashpoint for further trouble.

One person died from head injuries and four others were in serious condition, two with gunshot wounds, Dr. Petchapon Kumtonkitjakarn of the Erawan Medical Center said. He said 37 people were being treated for injuries at several hospitals.

On Monday, a coalition of 43 unions representing workers at state companies – including water, electric, phone and the national airline – said they would cut off services to the government starting Wednesday in support of the anti-government protests. They already were disrupting rail service and planned to cut back public bus transportation.

“The government has beaten protesters, and that justifies our retaliating by stopping water, telephone service and electricity to some government agencies,” Sawit Kaewwan, secretary-general of the State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation, or SERC, said at a news conference.

The labor federation said 200,000 members would stop work in support of the alliance of right-wing protesters that has occupied Samak's office for a week in its campaign to bring down the government.