News / Asia

Thai Army Warns Protesters to Disperse

In a blunt warning to anti-government protesters in central Bangkok, the Thai army says time is running out for demonstrators occupying a key intersection to leave, before military forces move in. The rising tensions in Bangkok has already led to brief clashes between anti-government protesters and local residents.

Reports say up to 10,000 troops have been deployed in central Bangkok ahead of fresh clampdown against thousands of anti-government demonstrators, known as red shirts.

The protesters, led by the United Democratic Front against Dictatorship are camped in the Rajaprasong retail and tourist district, leading to the closure of scores of businesses at the cost of millions of dollars in lost revenue.

But UDD leaders remain defiant.  Protesters have built barricades and have stockpiled sharpened bamboo sticks and broken paving stones.  The military says it will use tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition, if necessary.

Weng Tojirakan, a key UDD leader, says a final decision when the military action will begin rests with the Army Chief General Anupong Paochinda.

"The soldiers still stand there - 10,000 people well armed.  So they're preparing to kill us every minute. It depends on Anupong decision, himself, whether to kill people or to stop the killing. [But] it's very difficult for the government to kill us.  If they kill another time something maybe changed," said Weng Tojirakan.

On April 10, at least 24 people on both sides died in clashes between the military and the protesters.  More than 850 others were injured.   

The protests began five weeks ago and support former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.  He has the backing of rural and urban poor and working class, who had benefited from his populist policies while in power.  He was ousted in a coup in 2006.

Protesters say the government of Prime Minster Abhisit Vejjajiva is illegitimate, because it came to power through court rulings that removed pro-Thaksin prime ministers.

But a member of the governing Democrat Party, Kraisak Choonhavan, says the red shirt movement is using protesters in a bid to overthrow the government.

"One cannot interpret this situation in any other way but is a direct provocation using the people as pawns, if you like the old saying of 'cannon fodder,' in order to overthrow the government.  And, this is really unfortunate.  We've never faced such a situation before," said Kraisak.

Related video report by Daniel Schearf: Thai Demonstrators Vent Anger at Anti-Government Protesters

Kraisak says the government is losing patience dismissing red shirt claims it is facing a class war.

Growing frustrations by local business and residents in Bangkok have led to brief clashes with red shirts near barricades in central Bangkok.

The United States has urged both sides to seek a peaceful resolution to the crisis, saying violence is not a solution to the current political challenge.

Thailand faces its most severe political crisis in almost 20 years. Negotiations last month ended in failure ,after a government offer for elections in nine months was dismissed by UDD leaders who call for immediate polls.

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