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Thai Security Forces to Cut Off Power to Rally Site

VOA's Daniel Schearf reports on the Red Shirt protests from Bangkok

The Thai government is stepping up efforts to isolate red shirt protesters in central Bangkok by shutting off utilities and power supplies to the protest site. Red shirt leaders have vowed to press on with the protest, despite the threats amid fears of rising tensions after the government had offered a reconciliation plan just a week ago.

Thai security forces announced Wednesday all utilities to a protest site in central Bangkok where anti-government rallies have taken place for more than six weeks will be shut down in a bid, to force an end to the protests.

Army spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd says the military will avoid violence, but at midnight, power and food supplies, as well as transportation lines, will be cut off.

The move to shut off utilities was also affecting hundreds of people in buildings in the vicinity, forcing them to relocate to other temporary accommodation.

Officials say the steps come after the red shirts rejected a peace plan by Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. Last week, Mr. Abhisit set out a five-step plan that included elections in November. Mr. Abhisit threatened to withdraw the election offer if the rally did not end.

The red shirts had said the rallies would end once Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban reported to police to answer questions about the deaths and injuries from an April 10th clash with security forces that left more than 20 protesters and military dead and almost 900 other people injured.

Mr. Suthep, in charge of security at the time, met with Justice Ministry officials Tuesday. Protesters say the Justice Ministry's Department of Special Investigation favors the government. But the police are viewed as favorable to the red shirts.

Red shirt spokesman Sean Boonpracong says the protesters have sufficient supplies for several days, including their own power generators.

"Far as we are, we are going to stand-by and see how they tighten up the noose and see what happens. I think we have enough supplies to last a few weeks," he said. "We're not worried. I believe that they will not be able to close [us down] there are so, so many civilians here."

The anti-government rallies in the prime commercial area, Rajaprasong, have paralyzed business to the cost of millions of dollars and have cost thousands of jobs, with tourism being hardest hit.

Behind the scenes, negotiations between the government and red shirt leaders had appeared to make progress, in recent days, with both sides edging towards a compromise and an end to the rallies. But Boonpracong dismissed such steps, now accusing the government of "broken promises".

The rallies began in mid-March, calling for the government to step aside and hold new elections. Protest leaders interviewed by VOA Tuesday had been upbeat the rallies would end soon. Late Wednesday, sources within the governing Democrat Party remained hopeful a compromise may still be reached.

The protests marked a further escalation in political tensions in Thailand, in the past year. Protesters are largely rural and urban poor and working class who support former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who lives overseas in the face of corruption charges. He was ousted in a coup in 2006. Two pro-Thaksin governments were dismissed by court decisions.

The rallies have also attracted numbers of urban middle class, left wing groups and those opposed to the military.

But analysts say there may be links with harder core military and former army soldiers, allegedly responsible for several grenade explosions and shooting that have left three dead and dozens wounded.

Related Report by VOA's Daniel Schearf