Expats and visitors to Thailand are being warned to exercise caution in Bangkok after the government declared a severe emergency as the worst political violence in almost 20 years left 21 dead and over 800 injured.
The state of emergency covers areas of the capital city and certain districts of five nearby provinces. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva declared that the move was to restore normalcy and ensure the sanctity of the law, and all actions that will be taken will be in accordance with the law and international standards.
Meanwhile the UK and dozens of other governments warned its nationals to exercise extreme caution throughout the country while avoiding the anti-government ‘red shirt’ demonstrations in Bangkok that have erupted into such brutal clashes with the security forces. The Foreign Office revised its advice warning to Britons urging they remain indoors if violence re-erupts, while Australia said further trouble was extremely likely after the protesters shunned talks to end the stand-off with the government.
Tourism officials are stressing that travel to all other parts of the kingdom has not been affected. Tourism activities in all other areas continue as normal, a spokesman said, adding that foreigners have not been targeted in the on-going political conflict. However, foreigners are advised to be vigilant and avoid areas where crowds may gather. In much of Bangkok the violence has not changed daily life and the airport has not been affected so far and protesters haven’t said they’ll occupy it, as their yellow-shirted political opponents did in November 2008.
Taxis are still readily available and all but a few major roads are still accessible. The worst affected area is around government buildings and the Rajaprasong intersection in the middle of Bangkok’s hotel and shopping district. The hotels are still open, though some have erected small barriers to keep red shirts out. While this area is shut down for blocks in either direction, the BTS Skytrain stations that run above it, Chidlom and Siam, are still functioning.
The red shirt protesters want Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to dissolve parliament and leave the country. Abhisit could propose early elections to defuse the month-old crisis. He has to call an election by the end of 2011.
If he does intend to do this there would be no announcement before the end of the New Year Songkran holiday that runs from Tuesday to Thursday. But the government also made Friday a holiday long before the protests began.