State of Emergency Declared After Riotous Protest Against Chemical Plant
BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _ Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda declared a state of emergency in Phuket in southern Thailand today after 50,000 people protesting plans to open a chemical plant set fire to the factory, a hotel and six vehicles, officials said.
Police rushed in reinforcements, troops were placed on standby, and Thai Industry Minister Chirayu Isarakun Na Ayuthaya was evacuated by helicopter after being shoved by an angry mob, they said.
Protesters blocked firetrucks trying to get to the fires, the officials reported.
The official Thai News Agency said one policeman was hurt when protesters hurled stones at the Merlin Hotel, where Chirayu was reportedly staying.
No details were available on damage done by fires which officials reported were set at the plant and the hotel.
Demonstrators at Phuket, a popular island resort 535 miles south of Bangkok, claimed the plant would pollute the environment and hurt tourism. The plant is to produce tantalum, a metallic chemical element used to make electronic components.
Nineteen people were arrested on charges of creating disturbances, state- run television Channel 9 reported.
Prem, who was visiting the nearby city of Songkla, signed an order declaring a state of emergency effective at once, Channel 9 said.
The order gives the police and military powers to search and seize suspects, and the Phuket governor the authority to impose a curfew, said Kamol Thongthammachart, a minister in the premier’s office.
A state of emergency for a civil disorder was last declared in Thailand during an abortive coup Sept. 9.
Lt. Gen. Rimpich Satachapan, chief of police for the south, said that from 2,000 to 3,000 protesters raced into the plant and set fires, the Thai News Agency reported.
The protesters jostled Chirayu shortly after he laid a wreath at a monument there, the agency said. The minister, who was in Phuket to help settle the controversy, was not hurt and was quickly driven away, it added.
A provincial police official, who insisted on anonymity, said more than 50,000 protesters jammed the area of a town hall where a public hearing on the plant was being held.
Lt. Somsong Tradjam, deputy chief of marine police at Phuket, said the crowd, angered that Chirayu did not show up at the meeting, broke windows at the hall. Police said Chirayu did not attend because crowds blocked the street.
About 20,000 protesters then marched to the tantalum plant, where they burned effigies of shareholders and symbolic coffins, and then part of the factory, Somsong said in a telephone interview.
Other demonstrators went to the Merlin and shattered windows with stones.
Residents said schools and most shops and businesses in Phuket were closed as people joined the rally.
It was the second big demonstration against the plant, owned by the private Thailand Tantalum Co. On June 2, more than 30,000 people, by police estimate, held protest rallies there.
The government is expected to decide in early July whether to allow the plant to operate.