January 18-23, 2014
It's getting worse.
The U.S. Department of State alerts U.S. citizens of the potential risks of travel to Thailand, particularly Bangkok, due to ongoing political and social unrest ahead of Thai parliamentary elections, scheduled to take place nationwide on February 2, 2014. The situation is unpredictable and ongoing demonstration activity, primarily in the greater Bangkok area and occasionally elsewhere in Thailand, is expected to continue. U.S. citizens are advised to avoid all protests, demonstrations, and large gatherings. Some protest sites are located near tourist attractions and popular shopping malls, which at times have closed or shortened hours unexpectedly. Protests may occur in other areas with little or no prior notice. You should allow extra time when travelling throughout the city or to/from airports. Consider using public transportation. Although many protest activities have been peaceful, increasingly violent incidents have occurred at or near protest sites. This Travel Alert expires on February 14, 2014.
Political demonstrations have been taking place in Thailand regularly since early November 2013. Most protest activity has occurred in the Bangkok area, but on occasion there have also been smaller demonstrations in other areas, including Chiang Mai. In Bangkok, protests have been mobile throughout the city, with large numbers of demonstrators at times swelling quickly and closing major roads and intersections. The majority of the demonstrations have occurred in the vicinity of Thai government facilities and at major intersections including Lumpini Park, Democracy Monument, Sala Daeng, Asoke, Ratchaprasong, Pathumwan, Victory Monument, Lat Phrao, and at the Government Center at Chaengwattana. Beginning on January 13, 2014, protestors took control of these intersections, blocking most vehicular traffic, and occasionally redirecting pedestrian traffic. These sites draw large crowds, especially in evenings and on weekends. There is often reduced or no police presence at protest sites, where protest "guards" frequently control access.
While demonstrations have been generally peaceful, some have resulted in injury and death. Violence, including gunshots, was reported on the night of November 30, 2013 in the area of Ramkhamhaeng University in the Bang Kapi district northeast of central Bangkok. At least four persons were killed and several dozen injured. On December 26, demonstrations at an official election event at the Thai-Japanese Sports Complex Stadium in Din Daeng in north central Bangkok escalated into clashes with police, resulting in deaths and serious injuries. On the afternoon of January 17, 2014, an explosive device detonated amid a protest march near the National Stadium and MBK shopping mall at Pathumwan intersection in central Bangkok, which resulted in at least 39 injuries and 1 death. On the same day, there was a confrontation near the Government Center on Changwattana Road in northwestern Bangkok. On January 19, an explosive device detonated in a crowd of demonstrators at Victory Monument, resulting in at least 29 casualties. Throughout the first half of January, additional assaults involving weapons and explosives related to the ongoing political situation occurred at protest sites, both during the day and at night.
The Thai government has invoked its Internal Security Act (ISA) throughout Bangkok, which allows authorities to close roads, make arrests; take action against security threats; and increase police presence around government buildings and at other locations. Police have used tear gas, rubber bullets, and other measures to protect government facilities at several locations. In coordination with the government, Thai military personnel have provided additional security at some sites in Bangkok.
U.S. citizens are cautioned that even demonstrations that are meant to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. You should avoid protest sites, demonstrations, and large gatherings. Be alert and aware of your surroundings and pay attention to local news media reports.
U.S. citizens who travel to or reside in Thailand are strongly advised to enroll in the State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) https://step.state.gov/step/. U.S. citizens without Internet access may enroll directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. By enrolling, you make it easier for the U.S. embassy or consulate to contact you in case of an emergency.
Unless otherwise indicated in a public announcement, the U.S. Embassy is open for all routine American Citizens Services by appointment. U.S. citizens needing emergency assistance do not need an appointment. The American Citizen Services Unit of the U.S. Embassy (http://bangkok.usembassy.gov/service.html) is located at 95 Wireless Road in Bangkok, and can be reached by calling 66-2-205-4049, or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The Embassy's after-hours emergency telephone number is 66- 2-205-4000.
The U.S. Consulate General in Chiang Mai (http://chiangmai.usconsulate.gov/service.html), located at 387 Wichayanond Road in Chiang Mai, is also open unless otherwise indicated. The American Citizen Services Unit of the Consulate General can be reached by calling 66-53-107- 777 and by e-mail at email@example.com. The after-hours emergency telephone number is 66-81-881-1878. You can also follow the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok's American Citizen Services Unit on Twitter for further updates.
Current information on safety and security can also be obtained on travel.state.gov http://travel.state.gov/content/travel/english.html or by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States or a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444 for callers from other countries. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
U.S. citizens should also consult the Department of State's Country Specific Information for Thailand http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/t hailand.html. Stay up to date by bookmarking our Bureau of Consular Affairs website http://travel.state.gov/content/travel/english.html, which contains the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/alertswar nings.html as well as the Worldwide Caution http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/alertswar nings/worldwide-caution.html. Follow us on Twitter https://twitter.com/travelgov and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on facebook https://www.facebook.com/travelgov as well.
Chopping at a myth.
This is to advise and update U.S. citizens residing in or traveling to Thailand that the Thai government on January 21 imposed a 60-day state of emergency in Bangkok and several surrounding provinces, effective January 22.
The decree provides the government additional authorities to deal with security challenges, such as impose curfews, ban certain assemblies, detain suspects without charge, and restrict information. The government has not yet specified what authorities it will invoke under the decree. We continue to advise citizens to avoid protests, demonstrations and large gatherings.
We strongly recommend that U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in Thailand enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at www.Travel.State.Gov. STEP enrollment gives you the latest security updates, and makes it easier for the U.S. embassy or nearest U.S. consulate to contact you in an emergency. If you don’t have Internet access, enroll directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
Regularly monitor the State Department's website, where you can find current Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and the Worldwide Caution. Read the Country Specific Information for Thailand. For additional information, refer to “A Safe Trip Abroad” on the State Department’s website.
Contact the U.S. embassy or consulate for up-to-date information on travel restrictions. You can also call 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or 1-202-501-4444 from other countries. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and download our free Smart Traveler iPhone App to have travel information at your fingertips.
The American Citizen Services Unit of the U.S. Embassy (http://bangkok.usembassy.gov/service.html) is located at 95 Wireless Road in Bangkok, and can be reached by calling 66-2-205-4049, or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The Embassy’s after-hours emergency telephone number is 66-2-205-4000.
The U.S. Consulate General in Chiang Mai (http://chiangmai.usconsulate.gov/service.html) is located at 387 Wichayanond Road in Chiang Mai. The American Citizen Services Unit of the Consulate General can be reached by calling 66-53-107-777 and by e-mail at email@example.com. The after-hours emergency telephone number is 66-81-881-1878.
The Thai government has imposed a 60-day state of emergency in the capital, Bangkok, and the surrounding provinces, from Wednesday, to cope with unrest.
The decree gives the government wide-ranging powers to deal with disorder.
Anti-government protesters have been blocking parts of the capital to try to force PM Yingluck Shinawatra to resign.
They accuse the government of being run by exiled former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, the brother of the current prime minister.
Ms Yingluck has refused to resign and has called an election on 2 February to pacify the protesters.
The state of emergency was announced after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday and comes after a spate of attacks with explosives and firearms on the anti-government protesters blockading central Bangkok for which the government and the protesters blame each other.
On Sunday, 28 people were injured when grenades were thrown at one of several protest sites set up at major road sections in the city.
"The cabinet decided to invoke the emergency decree to take care of the situation and to enforce the law," Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said.
The emergency decree gives the government power to censor the media, ban public gatherings and detain suspects without charge.
It also allows for curfews and for parts of Bangkok to be declared off-limits.
The Thai government has been contemplating a state of emergency for weeks, but in practice, it is not clear how many of those powers it will be able to use, says the BBC's Jonathan Head in Bangkok.
Ms Yingluck said the police, not the military, would mainly be used to maintain control under the decree.
"We will use peaceful negotiations with the protesters in line with international standards... We have told the police to stick with international standards, to be patient with the protesters," she told reporters.
Labour Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, who will oversee the decree's implementation, said Thailand would abide by international standards.
"We will not use force. We have no policy to disperse them [the protesters] and we haven't announced a curfew yet," he said.
'Come and get us'
Addressing supporters in Bangkok, the leader of the protesters, Suthep Thaugsuban, questioned whether the state of emergency was justified.
"Is it right for them to use the emergency decree to declare a state of emergency to come and deal with us? Come and get us. We are not afraid of you."
The decree extends past the date of the general election next month.
The official election commission has already expressed doubt over whether conditions are peaceful enough for the vote to go ahead.
Imposing emergency rule casts yet more doubt over the poll - yet the government, which is now acting in a caretaker capacity, insists there is no legal alternative, our correspondent adds.
The government says that as the Thai parliament has already been dissolved, only a new parliament can choose the next administration.
The demonstrators have been rallying in the streets of Bangkok for months.
They want an unelected "people's council" to run the country until Thailand's political system is changed.
At 7:30PM I am the only customer in the restaurant.
A leader of Thailand's pro-government "red-shirt" group has been shot, as the 60-day state of emergency came into effect in Bangkok and nearby provinces.
Kwanchai Praipana, a local radio presenter who played a large role in Bangkok protests in 2010, was wounded at his home in Udon Thani in the north.
It came as anti-government protesters continued to block parts of Bangkok to force the prime minister to resign.
The emergency decree gives the government wide-ranging powers.
Imposed late on Tuesday, it covers Bangkok and three surrounding provinces. It gives the government the power to control crowds and censor media, but it remains unclear how it will be enforced.
The protesters - who began their campaign in November - say Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government is being influenced by her brother, exiled former leader Thaksin Shinawatra.
The protesters want an unelected "people's council" to run Thailand until its political system is changed.
Ms Yingluck has refused to step down and has called an election on 2 February, which the opposition are boycotting.
The emergency declaration follows incidents of violence during protests, with both the pro-government and anti-government sides blaming each other for attacks.
Kwanchai Praipana, a prominent leader of the "red shirts" who support Mr Thaksin and the current government, was wounded in the leg and shoulder while standing outside his home on Wednesday.
Police Colonel Kowit Tharoenwattanasuk told Reuters news agency that unidentified people fired shots from a pick-up truck.
He added that the attack was possibly a "politically motivated crime".
The "red-shirt" government supporters - who shut down Bangkok in 2010 - have for the most part stayed away from these protests. But observers fear that violence could erupt if a trigger brought them out onto the streets.
In Bangkok, meanwhile, there was little change seen on the streets in the first few hours of the state of emergency, with anti-government protesters continuing their blockades in the city centre.
This state of emergency will be run by police, not the army, the government says In the past, emergency decrees in Thailand have usually meant deploying the army to impose order on the streets, says the BBC's Jonathan Head in Bangkok.
This time, the government says emergency rule will be run by the police, who until now have been told to avoid confrontations with the protesters and have performed poorly when attempting crowd control, our correspondent adds.
Meanwhile, the US State Department issued a statement urging "all sides to refrain from violence, exercise restraint, and respect the rule of law".
"We encourage all involved to commit to sincere dialogue to resolve political differences peacefully and democratically," the statement from spokeswoman Marie Harf added.
Next: Part IV