Sunday, May 16, 2010

Thai Government set for final showdown with Red Shirts

The city of Bangkok remains in a state of civil war as the three-day street riots that have killed 25 people continue. Authorities have declared a 4km radius of the Thai capital around Lumpini Park as a “live firing zone”. The Pattaya Daily News reports the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation is considering ordering a curfew for residents of the affected areas “allegedly so that the military are able to isolate ‘terrorists’ from the innocent civilians”. Around 10,000 United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (Red Shirt) protesters are out on the streets demanding the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva step down. They claim Abhisit came to power illegitimately with the help of the army and have called for parliament to be dissolved. (photo by thethaireport)

The roads in and around the main Ratchaprasong rally site have been barricaded by the military, with water and food trucks being prevented from entering the site in an attempt to force the protesters to disband. Police have also set up checkpoints on Sukhumvit road at Soi Udomsuk to prevent more red shirts from coming in from rural areas. Transport services have been suspended for two days and protesters have barricaded MRT exits with tuk tuks delivering tyres to barricade points across the city. The latest round of fighting in the two month stand-off began late on Thursday as the army moved to isolate a fortified protest camp. Over the next two days 25 people were killed and another 215 injured as the two sides clashed on the streets with reports of army snipers picking off protesters.

Both sides have heightened the rhetoric as more blood has been spilt. This morning an army spokesman announced that some areas of the city would be subject to a curfew. Colonel Sunsern Kaewkumnerd said the curfew would be needed “so that police and soldiers can differentiate people from terrorists.” The army has not yet carried out its threat to move against the demonstrators' main rally site unless they dispersed but the curfew is likely to a precursor to a full-scale assault. But as Al Jazeera’s Aela Callan said the threat has not fazed the defenders. "Some of the red shirts I have spoken to have said they're not willing to leave," he said. "They're really hunked in there, they've set up their homes.”

More than 50 people have been killed and 1,600 wounded since the protests began in March. Tensions rose dramatically last week after the Red Shirts rejected Prime Minister Abhisit’s “roadmap” to an election on 14 November. Abhisit wanted anti-government protesters to accept his reconciliation plan and restore peace and stability. Not only did they reject that plan but Red Shirts demanded the prime minister and deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban hand themselves over to the Department of Special Investigations for their involvement in the deaths of 20 civilians following the April 10 clashes. On Thursday Abhisit ran out of patience and sent in the military.

Last night the Prime Minister made a public broadcast from the safety of an army barracks where he defended his decision to use force in the dispersal of the Red Shirts protesters. He argued that it was the only resort after peace negotiations broke down with the key opposition leader Jatuporn Prompan promising to “fight to the end”. The end may well be near for Prompan’s forces but the enmity Abhisit’s actions have caused are likely to have long-term repercussions that may leave Thailand fatally split for years to come.

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