BANGKOK, Thailand -- Throughout the sweltering night in Bangkok, Red Shirt protesters denounced the prime minister as a "puppet" of the military, and speculated about the government's next move after declaring a state of emergency.

"The army has a list of 70 Reds that they are about to hunt tonight!" a Red Shirt spokesman declared.

"Protect the leaders. Resist this illegitimate government. Do not give up any ground. But above all else, do not react with violence. That is what they want!"

Lalida Phanyang, a vocal Red Shirt activist, told her comrades: "Stay united, stay together, don't fight back" especially because there are "women and children among us" at their rally sites.

Red Shirts called for "reinforcements" to travel to Bangkok from elsewhere, especially their parched rural strongholds in Thailand's north and northeast.

Some Reds feared Thailand's U.S.-trained army would attack their rally sites before dawn.

Others said the military was reluctant to use force, and described some troops as "watermelons" who on the outside wore "green" uniforms, but were "red" on the inside with secretly subversive political sympathies.

Thailand's fragile, besieged government clamped a state of emergency on Bangkok and nearby provinces on Wednesday (April 7), hours after Red Shirt protestors stormed Parliament.

Out-numbered police, wearing riot gear, mostly backed away when Red Shirts broke through Parliament's tall, wrought-iron gate, while frightened politicians and their bodyguards escaped by climbing on ladders over a wall, including some who boarded an army Black Hawk helicopter which whisked them to safety.

Red Shirts seized a rifle, pistol and ammunition from one hapless security officer, forcibly escorted him to surprised police, and filed a complaint based on a prohibition against weapons inside Parliament.

"The government has tried its best to enforce the law, but violations of the law have increased," Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva announced in a televised statement.

"Our main goal is to bring the country back to normal and make our law sacred once again."

The government had been reluctant to crack down on tens of thousands of Red Shirt protesters, possibly because some officials and military officers wanted to avoid bloodshed.

The state of emergency allows for curfews, the banning of public gatherings by more than five people, an increase in existing media censorship, and detention of people without charge for up to one month.

It comes on top of an earlier Internal Security Act, which also allowed sweeping powers of arrest and detention, but had not been enforced.

This Buddhist-majority Southeast Asian nation is a vital non-NATO U.S. ally.

Its paralyzed government is led by a worried, mild-mannered, soft-spoken Mr. Abhisit, who has been sleeping and working in a Bangkok military base, the 11th Infantry Regiment, since the protests began.

He recently came under scathing attack in the media for failing to clear the Red Shirts from Bangkok's streets.

After the attack on Parliament, Mr. Abhisit cancelled his planned April 12-13 visit to an international nuclear summit in Washington, a spokesman said.

The Parliament chaos ended peacefully.

The Red Shirts returned to their two urban bases, where they have erected stages for political speeches and lively Thai folk music and dance routines to inspire the crowd.

Their most important base illegally occupies a major intersection where five-star hotels, luxury shopping malls, tourist attractions and other facilities are located.

That blockade has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue to businesses in the area.

Their other illegal base is in Bangkok's older core, where several government offices are located.

The protests have mostly been peaceful.

Life in Bangkok has been relatively normal, despite traffic jams because of the rallies and the Red Shirts' boisterous, mass motorcades.

Army Commander-in-Chief Gen. Anupong Paojinda has been supporting the government partly because he retires at the end of September, and wants to ensure Deputy Army Commander-in-Chief Gen. Prayuth Chanocha is promoted to take over his post, according to analysts.

The Red Shirts had demanded elections within 15 days, but Prime Minister Abhisit suggested nine months -- safely after the army's October 1 promotions.

Gen. Anupong and other military leaders staged a bloodless coup in September 2006, ousting a thrice-elected prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who now flies around the world in self-exile as a fugitive.

After the coup, Mr. Thaksin was found guilty in a conflict of interest case involving Bangkok real estate, purchased by his then-wife.

On February 26, another court decision seized 1.4 billion U.S. dollars of Mr. Thaksin's family assets after convicting him of corruption.

Based on Mr. Thaksin's previous popularity, Red Shirts who support him predict their candidates would win if an election were held now.

If that happened, many expect Mr. Thaksin would be allowed to return, enjoy amnesty for his crimes, have his fortune restored, and possibly be re-instated as prime minister.

The escalation on Wednesday (April 7) by both sides comes after tens of thousands of Red Shirts continued to cripple Bangkok by mass street rallies, which began on March 12.

The United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, popularly known as the Red Shirts because of their colored attire, draws support mostly from impoverished rural and urban Thais, and others who oppose the military's 2006 coup.

The Red Shirts have a handful of emerging leaders, and their rhetoric has called for a "class war" against "aristocrats," though many of them insist their struggle should be non-violent.

The assault on Parliament was reportedly led by a former pop singer, Arisman Pongruengrong, an aggressive Red Shirt leader.

Mr. Arisman also reportedly helped lead an assault last April in the seaside resort of Pattaya when Red Shirts smashed their way into a hotel during an Asian summit, causing foreign leaders to evacuate by helicopters.

A few days later, clashes between Red Shirts and security forces in Bangkok left two civilians dead and 120 injured.

On April 12, 2009, Mr. Abhisit declared a state of emergency and his statements then and now are eerily similar, echoing assurances that his government wants to avoid bloodshed, but demanding an end to public confrontations on the streets.

Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist who has reported news from Asia since 1978. He is co-author of "Hello My Big Big Honey!", a non-fiction book of investigative journalism. His web page is