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Thai Soldiers Clash With Protesters


At least one soldier is dead and at least 18 protestors wounded after a confrontation outside of Bangkok. Thai military and anti-government protestors clashed when protestors attempted to breach military barricades. The violence has triggered fears the armed forces may be preparing a crackdown on the protestors.

The outbreak of violence between anti-government red shirt protestors and military occurred at mid-afternoon on Wednesday when a red shirt protest convoy of some 100 vehicles and motorbikes was confronted by army barricades in the suburbs north of Bangkok.

Up to 2,000 protestors had left the main rally site near a major retail and hotel district aiming to travel to Bangkok's outskirts. The red shirts said they were preparing to expand their protests beyond the main site at the Rajaprasong intersection where they have been camped since April 4.

An Army spokesman Major Pankrawee Sangmitr said the more than three hour clash was a combined army and police operation.

"We have a clash between the armed force and the demonstration on the Viphavadee Road and now one solider injured and people injured," he siad. "We have cooperation together the armed forces and police. We try to control the situation on the street."

Reports said riot squads fired into the air in a bid to push the protestors back. But when several protestors moved in to remove barbed wire, soldiers fired directly at the protestors.

Troops had been told to use rubber bullets but had the authority to use live ammunition for self defence. Protestors were reported firing home-made bamboo rockets at the troops.

Several protestors were wounded and taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.

Earlier, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, in an interview, said he hoped to resolve the conflict peacefully but in trying to enforce the rule of law was attempting to minimize losses. The Government says it is looking to restore law and order but will allow protests at the main site to continue.

But since early April, clashes between the military and red shirt protestors have led to at least 26 people killed and nearly 1,000 wounded including a series of grenade attacks last week that killed a woman and left dozens injured.

The Red Shirt protests are largely backing former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a coup in 2006. But Thaksin remains popular among the urban and rural poor and working class due to populist policies while in power.

The urban elite accused Thaksin of corruption and abuse of power as well as seeking to interfere in the Thai monarchy.

A member of the opposition Puea Thai Party, Kudeb Saikrajang, says there are fears of a crackdown, despite calls for further negotiations. Earlier talks between the government and red shirt leaders collapsed after both sides failed to agree on a date for new elections.

"We are quite pessimistic that how we can avoid confrontation. But we are trying our best and we are asking for understanding of the society as a whole to propose the negotiation to the government," said Kudeb. "We are quite pessimistic now about the violence to take place."

The red shirt rallies in Bangkok have increasingly paralyzed business and commerce leading to losses running into millions of dollars in the retail and business sections of the city as well as contributing to a slump in tourism as dozens of countries post warnings about travel to Thailand.

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