Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thai Troops Struggle to Contain Bangkok Protests

Thai authorities said on Thursday they would intensify efforts to contain anti-government protests in Bangkok, after a soldier was killed in the latest clash of a seven-week old campaign to force early elections.

The "red shirt" supporters of ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra remained defiant in their makeshift encampment in the capital after skirmishes with Thai troops on Wednesday in Bangkok's northern suburbs left 19 wounded.

The increasingly violent protests and the economic toll they are taking on Southeast Asia's second-largest economy is piling more pressure on Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to break up the red shirt camp in a ritzy shopping district of the capital.

Army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd told Reuters troops at checkpoints on roads leading into the area would stop people bringing in weapons and might discourage more from going in.

But red shirt leader Weng Tojirakarn said on Thursday he expects more people to join his ranks after Wednesday's clash. "It was clear from yesterday that the government is bringing war upon us," he said on the protest stage. "I believe more people will come after what happened and we will keep fighting. We believe victory is near," he said to loud cheers from thousands in their encampment behind medieval-like barricades made of truck tyres, bamboo poles and chunks of concrete.

With neither side showing any sign of compromise, analysts expect the stalemate to go on with potential flashpoints ahead.

"The situation is very volatile and any slight provocation by either side could again spiral into violence," said Somjai Phagaphasvivat, a professor at Thammasat University.

"The army appears reluctant to move in immediately on the main encampment, choosing instead to contain the unrest from spreading elsewhere. The army appears to be applying pressure a little at a time, and at the end, there may still be room for a political compromise. But we will have to see who caves first."

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban acknowledged to reporters on Thursday it would be hard to forcibly eject the red shirts because many women and children are among them.

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