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Tensions Remain High in Bangkok

Royalist rally at Silom Road in central Bangkok, 21 April 2010

Royalist rally at Silom Road in central Bangkok, 21 April 2010

In Bangkok tensions remain high following a troop build up in the city as anti-government protesters set up barricades around their rally headquarters. The protesters are ruling out new direct talks with the government, but say they would consider talks with intermediaries.

Fears of fresh clashes between Thai security forces and anti-government protesters remain Wednesday.

The protesters, led by the United Democratic Front against Dictatorship, want the government to resign and call new elections.

UDD leaders Wednesday ruled out new direct negotiations with the government, but say talks may be possible through third parties.

One UDD leader, Nattawut Saikua, warns the military against moving to disperse the demonstrators.

Nattawut says the protesters are ready to move all the time but the situation now is to see who will make the first move. He says that a small mistake could lead to the other sides' defeat.

The protests began six weeks ago. Thousands of demonstrators, known as red shirts, are camped in the Rajaprasong retail and tourist district, forcing the the closure of scores of businesses.

Business associations demand that the government end the protests.

Silom Road sits a few hundred meters from one entrance to the protesters' camp. The road, home to several large Thai financial companies, is under heavy army guard, to block UDD plans for a rally there.

At a rally on Silom Wednesday a few thousand office workers sang royalist songs within sight of the red shirts' barricades.

One man says the anti-government demonstrations damage the city's economy and threaten thousands of jobs.

"What right have they got to come and invade and take over all of Bangkok? Don't we have a right to live peacefully and work peacefully?" he asked. "Why did they come to Rajaprasong? Don't they realize that 70,000 have lost jobs in Rajaprasong? Why what right have they got to come and destroy our economy?"

The UDD supports former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a coup in 2006. Although he is beloved by the rural poor and urban working class, Thailand's urban middle class and elite accuse him of corruption and abusing his power in office.

The protesters say the current government, which came to office after court rulings removed pro-Thaksin prime ministers, is illegitimate.

The government has offered to hold elections in nine months, and reportedly may rewrite the constitution in a bid to step back from the brink of bloodshed.

Many Thais fear violence may not be avoided.

"I cannot see any sign from now on how we pass this moment peacefully," said Pinpaka Ngamsom, a political editor and media analyst. "If you see all the factors right now it's difficult for Thailand. They have no weapon but they believe they can win [beat] the solider."

The army warns it will use tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition to keep the protesters from spreading into other areas. The red shirts have responded by building barricades of tires and trucks, and stockpiling bamboo spears and stones.

Related Report by VOA's Daniel Schearf