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Thai Army Warns of Tough Action, Protesters Cancel March

Red Shirt protesters listen to a speaker at the Ratchaprasong intersection during an ongoing rally in central Bangkok, 20 Apr 2010
Red Shirt protesters listen to a speaker at the Ratchaprasong intersection during an ongoing rally in central Bangkok, 20 Apr 2010

Stepped-up security has stopped anti-government protesters from occupying a financial district in Bangkok. But fears of new bloodshed remain.

Protest leaders called off a march into Bangkok's main financial district area after hundreds of armed soldiers occupied the area.

Leaders of the United Democratic Front Against Dictatorship say the troops raised fears of violent clashes, despite calls from pacifist and non-government groups to peacefully end the protests.

Army officials Tuesday said protesters have stockpiled home-made weapons, including acid bombs and clubs spiked with nails. A VOA correspondent saw some of the red-clad protesters gathering up bamboo clubs.

A United Democratic Front Against Dictatorship leader, Charan Ditthapichai, says contacts with the head of the army, General Anupong Paochinda, prevented a new crackdown.

"We prepare ourselves. Many people come from the province already. We try to send a message to Anupong like last night. Someone talked with Anupong and he said 'O.K., O.K.,' he will not order, he would not order the army to crackdown us on this morning at 3 a.m.," said Charan. "We negotiate daily with Anupong and we are successful already for two days."

Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand in talks with UDD leaders, 20 Apr 2010
Anti-government 'red shirts', Bangkok, 20 Apr 2010 (VOA Photo - R. Corben)

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

The government says armed men infiltrated protest lines and fired on troops, killng five soldiers.

For nearly six weeks, thousands of protesters have rallied in Bangkok, demanding the government step down and call new elections. Their main camp is in the middle of a shopping and hotels district. Hundreds of businesses have had to close and losses are rising into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paripatra, a member of the governing Democrat Party, met with protest leaders.

"I heard all the arguments. I listened to all the arguments, and will convey the message to the prime minister," said Sukhumbhand. "The leaders of the UDD and me are in agreement that the most important thing is to avoid further bloodshed."

The protesters, known as Red Shirts, largely back former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006. He has wide support among the rural and urban poor, although Thailand's urban middle class say he was corrupt and abused his power. He lives overseas to avoid a prison sentence for a corruption conviction.

But some political analysts say the protesters, mostly from the poor and urban working class, reflect growing support for reforms to a political and economic system that largely focuses on Bangkok and the urban elite.