BANGKOK, Thailand — Thailand's prime minister declared a state of emergency in the capital today, empowering the military to restore order after street fighting between supporters and opponents of the government left one man dead and dozens injured.
The violence — the most serious since the protests began — followed a threat by state workers to cut off water, electricity and phone service at government offices and disrupt flights of the national airline in support of protesters trying to bring down Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej.
"I did it to solve the problems of the country," Samak said in televised comments, hours after the emergency decree was announced. "Because the situation turned out this way, I had no other choice."
The measure allows the use of military forces in policing activities, limits public gatherings, bans news reports that could instigate violence, and allows security officials to clear public roads, buildings and other areas. It would also permit the military to immediately oust the protesters occupying the prime minister's premises.
Samak called emergency rule the "softest means available" for restoring calm. He said it would end "moderately quickly," but didn't explain.
A week of political tension exploded into violence early this morning between protesters seeking to topple Samak and mobs of his supporters. About 500 Samak supporters marched through the streets proclaiming they were going to retake the prime minister's office compound, which has been occupied since Aug. 26 by the People's Alliance for Democracy.
The mob scuffled with police about halfway to the Government House complex, then battled with alliance members, with both sides wielding sticks and clubs. Police were unable to stop the fighting, which eased up only after army troops with riot gear — but no guns — reached the scene.
Although the troops were able to keep the antagonists apart, few supporters of either side dispersed, keeping the area a flashpoint for further trouble.
One person died and 37 people were being treated for injuries at several hospitals.