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Thai Authorities Ask Women, Children to Leave Protest Site

The Thai government has set a deadline of mid-afternoon Monday for women, children, the elderly and other unarmed protesters to leave their encampment in Bangkok's main commercial district.

A military spokesman said Sunday that security forces plan to allow neutral organizations such as the Red Cross into the protest area to encourage people to leave. Gunfire and explosions shook the area into the night Sunday as security forces fired at militant protesters armed with stones, gasoline bombs and guns. Other protesters set fire to tires forming a barricade around their protest site.

Anti-government unrest by the opposition protesters, known as the Red Shirts, spread to other areas of Bangkok and provincial districts outside the capital Sunday. Protest leaders had called for their supporters to spread out from their main encampment.

Earlier Sunday, the Thai government rejected calls by the Red Shirts for U.N.-mediated talks to end four days of deadly battles in Bangkok.

Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said the military will continue an operation to seal off the protesters. He also said the government will not let any foreign agency intervene in Thailand's internal affairs.

Scattered violence erupted Sunday in Thailand's impoverished northeast region, where many demonstrators live, prompting the government to extend a state of emergency to five more provinces and raising the total to 22 of the country's 76 provinces. The measure gives the Thai military the authority to maintain order, and it places limits on the media and public gatherings.

The government declared a public holiday in Bangkok for Monday and Tuesday in an attempt to keep civilians off the streets as the army battled for control of the city.

Thai authorities say the fighting has killed at least 31 civilians and wounded another 232 people since it erupted Thursday. Red Shirt leaders proposed U.N.-mediated talks with the government if it withdraws troops from the area that the protesters have been occupying since mid-March.

The Red Shirts want early elections to replace a government they see as illegitimate and elitist. Many of them are supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted by the military in a 2006 coup and now living in exile.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva made what he called a "final" offer to the Red Shirts last week to dissolve parliament and hold new elections in November, more than a year ahead of schedule. The Red Shirts rejected his proposal.

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.