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Thai Government Vows Army Crackdown Will Continue, 30 Dead

Thailand's government on Sunday in Bangkok insisted a crackdown on Red Shirt protesters will continue despite their plea for UN-mediated talks to end four days of street clashes with troops that have left 30 people
PTI May 16, 2010 20:44 IST
PTI

Thailand's government on Sunday in Bangkok insisted a crackdown on Red Shirt protesters will continue despite their plea for UN-mediated talks to end four days of street clashes with troops that have left 30 people dead.  A pause by the Thai military was unnecessary since troops were "not using weapons to crack down on civilians," said government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn.

The government maintains it is only targeting armed "terrorists" among the demonstrators.  Panitan's comments dashed hopes of an end to Thailand's worst political violence in decades, which has spiraled out of control and raised concerns of sustained, widespread chaos in this nation of 65 million people. Thailand is a key US ally and Southeast Asia's second-largest economy.

 According to government figures, 59 people have died and more than 1,600 have been wounded since the Red Shirts began their protests in March. The toll includes 30 civilians killed and 232 injured since Thursday in fighting that has turned parts of the city known for its nightlife into an urban war zone.  A towering column of black smoke rose over the city today as protesters facing off with troops set fire to tires serving as a barricade. Elsewhere, they doused a police traffic post with gasoline and torched it as sporadic gunfire rang out. 

The Red Shirts have occupied a 3-square-kilometre protest zone - barricaded by tires and bamboo spikes - in one of Bangkok's ritziest areas since mid-March to push their demands for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to resign immediately, dissolve Parliament and call new elections.  Drawn mostly from the rural and urban poor, the Red Shirts say Abhisit's coalition government came to power through manipulation of the courts and the backing of the powerful military, and that it symbolises a national elite indifferent to the poor. 

Soldiers have encircled the protest zone in a wide perimeter. Most of the fighting is taking place in the no-man's land in between. The Red Shirt fighters have used homemade gasoline bombs, firecrackers, rocks - and in some cases guns - to attack troops positioned behind sandbag bunkers. The soldiers have responded with rubber bullets and live ammunition.  Journalists have seen army snipers take aim through telescopic sights and fire to keep the attackers at bay.  With the Red Shirts' encampment virtually sealed off by troops, the protesters are running out of food and water and other supplies.  "We are willing to negotiate immediately," Nattawut Saikua, one of the protest leaders, said earlier today. (AP)