Thai Government Declares State Of Emergency

In Thailand, anti-government protesters occupying Bangkok's two main airports are bracing for confrontation. The prime minister has declared a state of emergency and ordered the police to resolve the situation. Police say they're attempting to negotiate the protesters' withdrawal, but protest leaders say they won't go until the government does.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Thailand's anti-government protesters are bracing themselves for confrontation. They've been occupying Bangkok's two main airports. And last night, the country's prime minister declared a state of emergency at and around the airports. He ordered police to resolve the situation. Police say they're attempting to negotiate the protesters' withdrawal. Protest leaders say they're not going to go until the government does. NPR's Michael Sullivan reports from Bangkok.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN: If the protesters occupying Suvarnabhumi airport are afraid of the police, they're not showing it.

(Soundbite of Protesters listening to music)

SULLIVAN: Outside the terminal a festive atmosphere today, as thousands of demonstrators listen to music and anti-government speeches, clapping politely in between mouthfuls of free food and drink provided by organizers. Inside the mostly deserted terminal, a woman gave free haircuts while others slept, sprawled in front of check-in counters.

(Soundbite of an ATM Machine)

SULLIVAN: The ATM machines were still working, but that was about it - the airport brought to a halt by the demonstrators two days ago, the duty free shops empty, and the tarmac packed with dozens of planes lined up neatly, ready to leave but unable to do so. The demonstrators say they're not leaving, either. Wanchulum PooMibarirak(ph) is 41 and from Bangkok. He's been here since Tuesday.

Mr. WANCHULUM POOMIBARIRAK (Demonstrator) (Thai spoken)

SULLIVAN: If the police come, he says, we won't use violence against them. We'll simply sit down and make them pick us up and carry us away. But we won't leave voluntarily. Punsi Buncharan(ph), 58, from the south, was even more defiant.

Ms. PUNSI BUNCHARAN (Demonstrator) (Thai spoken)

SULLIVAN: If the police come, she says, we'll fight. And I'm willing to die if helps get rid of this corrupt government, and it needs to go, she says. I feel sorry for the foreigners who can't leave because of this, she says, but it's something we need to do to get rid of this government. There was no sign of police at the airport this afternoon, despite the prime minister's address last night, authorizing them to remove the demonstrators.

Mr. SOMCHAI WONGSAWAT (Prime Minister, Thailand) (Thai spoken)

SULLIVAN: In his televised address to the nation, Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat the occupation of the airports was costing Thailand's economy and reputation dearly, but Somchai said he would not step down, insisting his government was democratically elected and should not bow to the mob. The continued occupation of the airports and Somchai's inaction to date have led to widespread speculation here that the army is planning another coup like the one that removed Somchai's brother-in-law, Thaksin Shinawatra, two years ago.

The army chief on Wednesday insisted no coup is imminent, but politely suggested that the prime minister dissolve parliament and hold new elections to end the crisis peacefully. Many here interpreted the army chief's comments as a de facto threat to the prime minister to step down, or else. Thousands of travelers and massive amounts of cargo remain stranded, and patience is wearing thin. If the government fails to remove the protesters from the airport soon, the army may yet stage another coup - which is exactly what the protesters want. Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Bangkok.

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