April 7 (Bloomberg) — Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva declared martial law in the capital after protesters stormed parliament, testing the army’s willingness to break up four weeks of mostly peaceful demonstrations.
About 3,000 people entered the gates of Parliament for about two hours and thousands more occupied Bangkok’s commercial district for a fifth day. The emergency decree bans gatherings of more than five people, allows detention without charge and gives soldiers immunity from prosecution.
“The law doesn’t mean we aim to crack down or hurt people, especially innocent people,” Abhisit said in a televised address. “The nation has been severely affected by the protests and the government needs to rectify the situation.”
The protesters, many loyal to exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, grew in confidence after police and soldiers abandoned attempts to disperse them yesterday. Army Chief Anupong Paojinda enforced orders from Abhisit a year ago to break up rallies by the same group that turned violent, something he may be reluctant to do this time.
“Declaring martial law may backfire on Abhisit,” said Michael Nelson, a lecturer at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. “If Anupong sees this as a political problem, an emergency decree may not prompt the military into action.”
Abhisit, who has been living in an army barracks, said protesters have breached the constitution and he declared the demonstration illegal. The law would also prevent misinformation and help stop sporadic grenade attacks that have hit the capital over the past month, he said.