News / Asia

Thai PM: Govt. Preparing to Retake Protest Site

Ron Corben

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva says his Government is preparing to end the seven week long anti-government demonstrations in Bangkok by applying increasing pressure on the protesters.  The government earlier, at a special cabinet meeting, had ruled out applying martial law, while providing $8 million in additional funds to police to step up operations.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva says his government has signaled to protesters to end the demonstration as it says a majority of Thai society now wants to see an end to the seven weeks of anti-government protests.

But Mr Abhisit gave no indication on when security forces would attempt to reclaim the area in central Bangkok's commercial and hostel district.

In interviews with foreign journalists Sunday at an army base on the outskirts of Bangkok, Mr Abhisit said he believed a majority of Thai society wanted to see enforcement of the law. "We are sending a clear signal that we've given a lot of time for people to leave Rajaprasong.  Some of them resort to terrorist tactics and also that we are now in the process of cutting off support and seal the area off before we actively move in," he said.

The Rajaprasong area, largely shut down for the past month, is occupied by commercial and retail properties including up-scale markets and hotels. It also has a labyrinth of small shops offering low cost clothes and goods.

Barricades of sharpened bamboo poles and rubber tires border the protest area to defend the camp against security forces. United Democratic Front against Dictatorship (UDD) leaders have said they are ready to fight any moves to disperse them.

Up to 100,000 people either have lost their jobs or face bankruptcy because of the continuing protests. The government is preparing to provide special assistance to the people and shops.

Thousands of the so-called Red Shirts protesters have been calling for the government to resign and call early elections. The government has refused but offered elections in nine months.

The protestors are largely supported by working class and poor in urban and rural areas who favor ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who remains popular among lower income groups but has been accused by the urban elite of corruption and abuse of power.

Mr. Abhisit still hopes mediators may assist to avoid further bloodshed. A clash on April 10 between military and protestors at another protest site left 25 people dead and hundreds injured. "We continue to exercise restraint and patience and the first best solution is one that does not involve violence. But the public patience is running out and the government has to make sure that we can uphold the law and be accountable to what I would say is the majority of Thai society," he said.

But tensions in Bangkok remain high. Increasing public pressure on the government followed a raid by red shirt guards on a hospital located near the protest area saying they believed it was occupied by soldiers. On Friday hospital staff relocated patients to other facilities. UUD leaders later apologised for the invasion.

Analysts, such as the International Crisis Group, are warning Thailand's political system has broken down amid fears a stand-off could lead into "an undeclared civil war".

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