Thai security forces have launched a major crackdown against anti-government protesters in a bid to end ongoing demonstrations. At least ten people were killed and more than 500 people have been injured as protesters prepare to fight against efforts to disperse them from rally sites.
Clashes between hundreds of Thai security forces and anti-government demonstrators Saturday led to scores injured as Thai government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajjiva pushed to end month long demonstrations in the capital Bangkok.
The protests, led by the United Democratic Front against Dictatorship, or UDD, have called for the government to resign and hold new elections. But Mr. Abhisit has resisted despite coming increasing pressure from tens of thousands of protestors and has offered to hold elections in nine months.
Tensions in recent days have escalated after protesters stormed an election commission office and the national parliament building. The government declared a state of emergency. It allows it wide powers in crowd control and controls over the media.
Troops Saturday moved to clear protesters at Phan Fa Le Ha Bridge, where the rallies began on March 12. Clashes were continuing into the early evening. Official sources said injuries from the clashes were mostly protesters as well as soldiers and the police. The army said it may use rubber bullets and water cannon.
Thai government spokesman, Panitan Wattanaygorn, said the crackdown was aimed at returning the city to 'normal' after the month long protests.
"We realize that this is the political demonstration and people may feel they have rights to demonstrate. Although it is very clear from the court order and from the public's view that these demonstrations are not peaceful and they need to be put under the law and order," he said.
UDD leaders had been anticipating a crackdown by authorities after the government declared a state of emergency Wednesday.
UDD protesters, who wear red and are known as red shirts, are supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006. He lives overseas to avoid a prison sentence on corruption charges. But many protestors also say they are demonstrating against inequities within Thai society.
Protesters at another rally site within the commercial retail district that has lost millions of dollars in lost revenues, by mid-Saturday evening were awaiting security forces to move against them. But protestors remained defiant. There were also signs of police in full riot gear pulling back from red shirt protest lines.
UDD spokesman, Sean Boonpracong, says the government's strategy would fail to end calls for new elections. The UDD accuse Mr. Abhisit's 16-month-old government of being backed by the military.
"The people may not survive today but they'll be back under a new leadership if they decapitate the current one. And I think it's really unfortunate that Abhisit Vejjajiva to this method [of crackdown]," he said.
The Thai criminal court has issued arrest warrants for over 30 of the UDD leadership.
Also Saturday 30 UDD protestors marched to the U.S. Embassy calling on the U.S. government to send a fact-finding mission to determine whether the Thai government has violated human rights.
Mr. Abhisit is facing the most severe crisis since red shirt protests last year led to the cancellation of an Asian leaders' summit after protesters invaded a conference center. Troops then had also been called into the capital to quell street violence and civil disobedience.