Page last updated at 16:42 GMT, Thursday, 8 April 2010 17:42 UK

Thailand issues arrest warrants ahead of mass protests


When the red-shirts breached parliament, some officials were evacuated by helicopter

Thailand has issued arrest warrants for seven people allegedly involved in the storming of the country's parliament.

The move comes a day before more mass anti-government protests scheduled to take place in the capital, Bangkok.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajivahas has declared a state of emergency but thousands of protesters have vowed to defy orders to disperse.

The escalating unrest has caused Mr Abhisit to cancel plans to attend a summit of regional leaders in Vietnam.

The arrest warrants come after thousands of red-shirted protesters stormed the parliament building on Wednesday forcing MPs to flee.

Mr Abhisit said the action means the red-shirt demonstrations can no longer be considered peaceful.

But he said that once "leaders who prefer violence are arrested" he believed other protesters would be persuaded to leave their current site, in the capital's commercial district.

The authorities have also shut down a television station used by the opposition United Front for Democracy (UDD) as well as a number of anti-government websites, say reports.

Among those wanted by the authorities is opposition leader Arisman Pongruangrong.

He was arrested in April last year for being among a group which stormed a meeting of the leaders of South East Asian leaders (Asean) in the southern resort of Pattaya, forcing its cancellation.

Delicate time

Despite the state of emergency, the red-shirted protesters show no signs of moving voluntarily from the commercial district.

They want Mr Abhisit to resign and call elections, saying his government is illegitimate as it was brought to power with military support.

Anti-government protesters in Bangkok, Thailand (8 April 2010)
Many rural dwellers and urban poor support red-shirts, while yellow-shirts comprise mainly middle classes and urban elite
In September 2008 yellows rally against government, reds counter-rally, clashes in Bangkok
Yellows blockade airport in November 2008, government collapses, yellow-friendly government installed
In April 2009 red protests halt Asean summit, two people die in Bangkok clashes, rallies called off
Reds relaunch protests in March 2010, splash blood on government buildings, march on parliament

On Thursday, Mr Abhisit said he would no longer be attending this year's Asean summit, currently taking place in Hanoi.

The BBC's Rachel Harvey in Bangkok says the decision was taken very late and very reluctantly, but that the domestic situation is now so delicate, he clearly feels it would not be wise to leave the country.

The state of emergency gives sweeping powers to the security forces and in theory bans public gatherings of more than five people, our correspondent says.

Mr Abhisit said it applied in the capital and surrounding areas, but it is not yet clear how the authorities will implement the new laws.

It is the fourth state of emergency in the capital since 2008.

Thailand has lurched from one crisis to another since 2006 when the government of Thaksin Shinawatra was overthrown.

Most of the support for the red-shirts comes from rural areas and the urban poor, who benefited from many of Mr Thaksin's populist policies.

On the other side of Thailand's political divide, the urban middle classes and traditional political elite - who protest dressed in yellow - back the current government.

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