Thailand's embattled Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat declared a state of emergency yesterday around two Bangkok airports occupied by protesters but insisted he wanted a peaceful resolution.
"I do not have any intention to hurt any members of the public," he said in announcing the targeted restrictions on civil liberties aimed at reopening the country's main international airport.
Under a state of emergency, the government can suspend civil liberties, ban public gatherings and take other measures to restore order without imposing broader restrictions that many Thais have feared.
On Tuesday, thousands of People's Alliance for Democracy demonstrators seized the newly built Suvarnabhumi International Airport, one of the busiest airports in Asia, marooning thousands of travelers.
Earlier yesterday, anti-government protesters took control of the city's decommissioned Don Muang airport. As rumors of an impending coup spread, the prime minister called an emergency Cabinet meeting.
In a nationally televised address Wednesday night, Somchai rejected army chief Gen. Anupong Paochinda's call for the prime minister to dissolve parliament and hold new elections.
Public Health Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung told reporters after the Cabinet session that police would soon be assigned to clear out the thousands of protesters entrenched at the airports.
By shutting down the main gateway for visitors to Thailand, the protesters have damaged the tourism industry, the country's largest earner of foreign currency, just as passengers were arriving at the start of the peak holiday season.
The anti-government activists - some armed with golf clubs, sticks and metal rods when they stormed the busy departure terminal - were bracing for potential clashes if police were ordered to evict them.