Thai government sets new ultimatum in Bangkok protests
BBC news/ Page last updated at 08:44 GMT, Sunday, 16 May 2010 09:44 UK
Quote:"The current situation is almost full civil war. I am not sure how this conflict will end."
Protest leader Jatuporn Prompan
Thai authorities have set an ultimatum to protesters camped in Bangkok since March, calling on women and the elderly to leave the camp by Monday afternoon.
The Red Cross has been asked to help coax people out of the camp, where protesters are calling on PM Abhisit Vejjajiva to resign.
One protest leader said Thailand was close to "civil war" after clashes with soldiers killed at least 25 people.
Several hundred protesters are gathering in another part of the city.
Soldiers have taken up positions beside a road leading to the camp, where witnesses say they are firing live rounds, apparently targeting anyone who comes near them.
Mr Abhisit has postponed the new school term in the city for a week, but a planned curfew has been cancelled.
Thai television has shown footage of women and children leaving the protest site.
The fighting flared on Thursday as the army moved to isolate a fortified protest camp.
Thousands of people who say Mr Abhisit came to power undemocratically remain behind makeshift barricades of rubber tyres, sandbags and bamboo stakes in the Ratchaprasong commercial district.
The protesters are known as red-shirts, after the colour they have adopted.
They want the prime minister to step down to make way for new elections. ...<cont>
Q&A: Who and what is causing the Thailand confrontation?
Ben Doherty and Sam Jones
guardian.co.uk, Friday 14 May 2010 13.21 BST
Redshirts, yellowshirts and the background to the violence in Bangkok
An anti-government protester fires a homemade rocket during the occupation of the business district in Bangkok, Thailand. Photograph: Ahmad Yusni/EPA
What are the origins of this confrontation?
Put simply, Thailand's rural poor are protesting for the right to have a greater say in the government of their country. The move is being resisted by the Bangkok elite " the wealthiest families, the military, the bureaucrats " who have controlled Thailand's affairs for generations.
Although the issue is complicated by the influence of people such as the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, at the heart of the conflict lies a struggle for, or a defence of, a greater say in the running of the country.
Who are the redshirts?
The redshirts are drawn largely from Thailand's rural poor, mainly from the north and north-east of the country. They are the electoral majority. Many are still supporters of the fugitive Thaksin. Although their movement grew out of a loyalty to Thaksin, it has become broader than him, with its leaders claiming their campaign is about bringing a more representative democracy to Thailand.
While Thaksin's face is still on much of their monochromatic merchandise and his billions are still bankrolling many protests, he does not appear by videolink very often anymore " nor is he mentioned by the leaders in their speeches very much. The movement has now begun to draw in city students and members of Bangkok's burgeoning elite.
They regard the current government as illegitimate because it never won an election and was brought to power by a parliamentary election " engineered by the military " after the redshirts' party was dissolved for electoral fraud and kicked out of parliament.
Who is pulling the strings?
The redshirts are an informal movement, with no real leadership structure or chain of command. Their leaders are an eclectic lot. They include:
Weng Tojirakarn " a medical doctor and former member of the communist party, he is one of the most eloquent of the redshirt leaders.
Veera Musikapong " former member Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai (Thais love Thais) party, which was dissolved. He helped set up the redshirts on TV channel People TV.
Arisman Pongruangrong " a 1980s pop star-cum-political activist, he famously avoided arrest during these protests by escaping from a Bangkok hotel, climbing out the window and down a rope ladder.
Seh Daeng " Renegade army major general, also known as Khattiya Sawasdipol, who headed the redshirts' paramilitary arm the black-clad "guards". Accused by the government of ordering grenade attacks all over Bangkok, he was shot by a sniper yesterday and remains in a coma in hospital.
Who are the yellowshirts?
The yellowshirts, or People's Alliance for Democracy, are the reds' opposition. They represent the ruling class in Bangkok, known as the amataya, or elite. They are the wealthy families, the military and the bureaucrats, who have long exerted a huge influence on Thai politics.
They wear yellow because they claim also to represent the interests of the monarchy (yellow being the Thai king's "colour"). In 2008 they seized both the airport and government house, but in this current standoff, the yellowshirts are nowhere. They flirted with the periphery of this current impasse, but have never become significantly involved.
What are the chances of a compromise solution?
At the beginning of this week, the chances looked good; the government had offered the redshirts an early election in November and the reds had said they agreed "in principle" to the "reconciliation roadmap" offered by the prime minister. But negotiations foundered over demands from the reds that Thailand's deputy prime minister be arrested for ordering troops to move on protesters on 10 April, when 25 people were killed.
The government then withdrew the offer of an early poll, and sent troops in to surround the protesters, cutting off their supplies of food, water, electricity, and fuel. Violence broke out again, and the two sides are now as far apart as they have been for this entire two-month political standoff.
Does Thailand have a history of political violence and uncertainty?
Most definitely. The current Thai king, who is 83, has sat on the throne for 63 years, during which time he has witnessed more than 15 coups, 16 constitutions and 27 changes of prime minister. Although the current bloodshed is the worst in two decades, it is not unprecedented: Thai democracy has been unstable for generations.
Bangkok a battleground as PM loses control
BEN DOHERTY/Sydney Morning Herald
May 15, 2010
BANGKOK: With his plan for a final peace deal disintegrating into open warfare in central Bangkok, the Thai Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, went to ground yesterday, raising concerns he was losing control of his government and the army, as well as the streets of the capital.
Mr Abhisit did not speak publicly yesterday as at least three people died in a new wave of violence and several others were injured, including foreign journalists. Skirmishes broke out across central Bangkok, with troops firing live rounds at defiant Red Shirt protesters, who hurled bricks, petrol bombs and grenades in retaliation.
But a leadership vacuum at the top has paralysed decision-making within the government and military and left the government on the brink of collapse.
Under fire... "Gunfire rings out constantly, mixed with the explosions of firecrackers and grenades." Photo: AFP
It is understood the Prime Minister has moved back into a safe house in an army barracks in the city's north. He spent the day in meetings with senior cabinet and military officials.
The army remains under the control of the government but there is a growing sense it may soon abandon the beleaguered Abhisit administration. ...<cont>
Curfews imposed as Thai violence spreads
By South East Asia correspondent Zoe Daniel and wires
Updated 54 minutes ago
A Thai Red Shirt anti-government protester shields himself during ongoing clashes in Bangkok. (AFP: Manan Vatsyayana)
Red Shirt protesters have offered to conduct new, unconditional negotiations with the Thai government, but accuse prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's administration of gross human rights violations and have asked the UN to step in.
There is renewed fighting between anti-government protesters and the military in Bangkok. The army has announced that a night curfew will be imposed in some areas of the Thai capital.
With violence spreading to more areas of Bangkok, the Thai government is asking independent groups like as the Red Cross to help coax anti-government protesters out of their fortified camp.
Tori Anderson, an Australian living in Bangkok, saw three protesters shot dead below the window of her flat on Saturday.
She says everyone is now fleeing the tower block where she lives, using a ladder to climb over a back gate to avoid the army and the red shirts.
"All the sirens are going off in my building. There was a man, and he was from the Red Shirts, and he was shot by the military downstairs," she said.
"They're evacuating the whole building, thinking its all a red zone now. So it's quite scary and we're climbing over the back fence, as I speak, trying to leave quietly away from my building."
Soldiers and protesters are now clashing on the Rama IV road on the fringe of the rally site where the red shirts have held their two month sit in.
Black smoke hangs over the area and shots are being fired. Live fire areas have been declared in various parts of the city and civilians have been warned to stay away.
There was a fairly significant stand off between troops and protesters in the slums of Klong Toey last night which is still simmering.
The bloodshed has been largely one-sided, as troops armed with automatic rifles easily dodge projectiles and open fire with automatic weapons. Some protesters have been killed by snipers positioned on the tops of office towers.
Soldiers can shoot if protesters come within 36 metres of army lines, said army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd, adding more soldiers were needed to establish control.
Soldiers have set up check points around the city and local residents are being made to sign a log book and obtain an ID card if they wish to enter the locked down CBD.
Mr Abhisit says the army will keep going until the rally is cleared.
The government has asked NGOs to start evacuating women and children from the main rally site in the centre of the city.
At least one Red Shirt leader is now saying Thailand's King is the only one who can step in to end the crisis.
Australia's Foreign Affairs Department says the violence means the Australian embassy in Bangkok will be closed to visitors from tomorrow until further notice.
It says the embassy is still operating, but some of the clashes are happening in front of the building.
The Department continues to warn Australians to reconsider their need to travel to Thailand.
Thai army attempts to impose curfew
Source: 7pm TV News NSW
Published: Sunday, May 16, 2010 8:04 AEST
Expires: Saturday, August 14, 2010 8:04 AEST
Multiple live fire zones have been declared around Bangkok as the Government orders a curfew be imposed to crackdown on protesters.
General dies as Thai protest deadline looms
Updated 2 hours 6 minutes ago/ABC news online.
Wary: many protesters are too afraid to leave their camp because much of the perimeter has been sealed by the army (AFP: Pedro Ugarte)
There is concern the death of one of the more militant leaders of Thailand's Red Shirt movement will further escalate violence in Bangkok.
Renegade Thai general Khattiya Sawasdipol, who was shot last week as he backed protesters, has died in hospital.
The news of his death came as a Thai government deadline for women and children to leave a protest site in central Bangkok approached.
The anti-government Red Shirts have been living in a sprawling protest camp in an up-market Bangkok shopping district for weeks, but the military is closing in with orders to shoot to kill.
The government has told women, children and elderly people to leave by 3:00pm (6:00pm AEST).
The government cancelled a planned curfew for last night so people could leave the rally if they wanted.
"Many have moved to a temple within the rally site," the ABC's South-East Asia correspondent Zoe Daniel said from central Bangkok.
"But a lot are simply just too afraid to leave because the larger perimeters of the area have now been pretty much sealed by the army, other than a couple of large hotspots where protesters are resisting.
"It's becoming very difficult for journalists and civilians to move around this inner-city area, and people have been pretty clearly warned that they can't be protected from random fire from the military or stray bullets."
The stakes are high for the protest leaders, who face terrorism charges carrying the death penalty. ...<cont>
Thai protesters defy deadline to leave
By ABC correspondent Matt Brown and wires
Updated 23 minutes ago
More than 35 people have died and about 230 have been wounded in clashes between the Red Shirts and soldiers. (AFP: Pedro Ugarte)
Thai Red Shirt protesters are still braced for a government crackdown after defying a deadline last night for them to leave their protest site in the heart of Bangkok.
Several thousand people, including women and children, remain holed up at the Red Shirt protest site with their leaders defying a deadline to abandon their call for the government's resignation.
More than 35 people have died and about 230 have been wounded in clashes between the Red Shirts and soldiers trying to close the protest camps.
The Red Shirts lack the numbers to control much of Bangkok, but scenes of conflict have flared well beyond the core protest area, including a few places in the countryside where the movement is strongest.
The secretary-general of the National Security Council says the military has no immediate plans to clear the main camp by force, but will keep sending warnings to protesters and will slowly step up pressure if they do not go.
Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn says it is keen to start evacuating the elderly, women and children from the camp to a nearby temple.
"We would like to have the Red Shirt demonstrators to end the protest and enter into the negotiations on the roadmap that we have," he said.
"But we need to make sure that about 35,000 to 40,000 people who have remained in the area are protected and leave the area. We are providing transport for them to leave."
A government spokesman says one of the protest leaders has called to propose a truce.
While the military has held off using overwhelming force it has been tightening its grip. Explosions echoed across the city throughout the night.
The city is teetering on the brink of a massacre and yet there is still talk of compromise. The deadline has been extended.
The man many Red Shirts support, ousted billionaire prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, has called on both sides to step back from the abyss.
The UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights has also called on the warring parties to end their conflict through negotiation.
Navi Pillay has warned the conflict "could spiral out of control" now that a government deadline to end the protest has passed.
Thais must step back from brink, says United Nations
Alistair Leithead looks at the battle lines that have been drawn in Bangkok
Thailand must step back from the brink and begin talks to end clashes between protesters and troops, the UN says.
UN rights chief Navi Pillay said Bangkok was in danger of spiralling out of control, after five days of violence which has seen 37 people killed.
She spoke a day after protesters called for UN-backed talks to end the crisis - a move rejected by the government.
A protest leader and the government's negotiator had a five-minute phone call earlier but could not agree a truce.
Ministers say the protesters must leave their makeshift camp in the centre of Bangkok before talks can commence. ...<cont>