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May 19, 2010

Bangkok under curfew after fresh anti-govt violence

BANGKOK, May 20 (Reuters) – Bangkok emerged from an overnight curfew on Thursday after the Thai capital was plunged into a day of rioting and fires in the aftermath of military action to disperse a camp of anti-government protesters. The capital, in the grip of protests by "red shirt" activists for six weeks, fell quiet as the 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. (1300 to 2300 GMT) curfew came into effect, though isolated skirmishes were reported in darkened streets.

At least six people died in the turmoil after troops in armoured vehicles pushed into the city-centre camp, prompting protest leaders to surrender. Troops, authorised to shoot looters and arsonists, pursued operations through the night.

Authorities imposed the curfew initially on the capital, but later extended it to 21 provinces — about a third of the total — after oubursts of unrest in seven regions, particularly in the north, a "red shirt" stronghold.

"I am confident and determined to end the problems and return the country to peace and order once again," Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajivahe said in a televised address on Wednesday night.

Thailand’s Stock Exchange, which closed early on Wednesday, was to remain shut on Thursday and Friday, along with banks. [ID:nSGE64H0A1]

Analysts said some investors bought shares on Wednesday, nudging the benchmark stock index up 0.71 percent, on news that the military had dispersed the protesters. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

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Reuters Insider on Thai crisis link.reuters.com/cuq74k

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For a graphic related to the story, see:

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Wednesday’s unrest, with 27 buildings set ablaze in Bangkok, including the stock exchange, was the "most widespread and most uncontrollable" political violence Thailand has ever seen, said political historian Charnvit Kasetsiri.

Town halls were set alight in three northern areas.

It was uncertain whether the rioting represented a final outpouring of protesters’ anger or whether they would intensify despite the scope of the curfew. [ID:nSGE64I0OI] [ID:nRISKTH]

A respite would give Thai markets some limited relief.

Further violence would suggest a new phase in Thailand’s political crisis, with the country moving towards the worst-case scenarios of prolonged unrest, profoundly negative for markets.

Protesters demand a new election and dismiss Abhisit as lacking a proper mandate after coming to power in a controversial parliamentary vote in 2006 with tacit military support.

In Washington, Kurt Campbell, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, told reporters talks were planned with Thai diplomats and officials.

A news blackout was imposed and local TV ran programmes of dancing and flag-waving Thais, periodically interrupting them for government statements. [ID:nSGE64I0I4]

The protesters, mostly rural and poor city dwellers, broadly support former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist billionaire ousted in a 2006 coup and living in self-imposed exile to avoid jail on a graft conviction.

Thaksin said the crackdown could spawn guerrilla warfare.

"There is a theory saying a military crackdown can spread resentment and these resentful people will become guerrillas," he told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

The offensive was launched a day after the collapse of proposed talks aimed at ending weeks of confrontation. More than 70 people have been killed and nearly 2,000 people wounded since the demonstrations began in mid-March. (Additional reporting by Nopporn Wong-Anan and Ambika Ahuja; Writing by Ron Popeski; editing by Ralph Boulton)

May 19, 2010

Curfew imposed to curb Bangkok rioting, buildings burn

BANGKOK, May 19 (Reuters) – Rioting and fires swept Bangkok on Wednesday after troops stormed a protest encampment, forcing protest leaders to surrender, but sparking clashes that killed at least four people and triggered unrest in northern Thailand.

Protesters torched at least five buildings, including the Thai stock exchange and Central World, Southeast Asia’s second-biggest department store complex, and attacked local Channel 3 television station as riots spread across the city of 15 million people.

About 100 employees of the TV station were trapped on the roof of the of the highrise and most have been rescue by helicopters, local media said..

Power was lost in typically bustling Sukhumvit Road district, an area packed with tourists and high-end residential complexes, just hours after the army said the situation involving thousands of anti-government protesters was under control.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva imposed a curfew in Bangkok on Wednesday from 8 p.m. (1300 GMT) until 6 a.m. on Thursday (2300 GMT Wednesday) The curfew — details of which were read out on national television — was meant to allow security authorities perform their duty, Abhisit said in the order.

The chaos followed a military operation in the morning in which troops in armoured vehicles and firing semi-automatic weapons advanced on an area occupied for more than six weeks by thousands of the "red shirt" demonstrators.

As they surrounded the main protest site, top protest leaders offered to surrender, as supporters urged them to fight on, many screaming and crying as gun fire rang out nearby.

Moments later, live television showed four "red shirt" protest leaders in police custody and an army spokesman said in a television broadcast the protest site was under army control and the military had halted operations.

But that didn’t stop the unrest after six days of chaotic street fighting between protesters and troops that descended into urban warfare, killing 41 people and wounding more than 330.

Minutes after they surrendered, three grenades exploded outside the main protest site, badly wounding two soldiers and a foreign journalist, a Reuters witness said. Rioting was seen in five areas of the city as protesters lit fires and burned tyres. Some hotels set up wooden barricades.

Several media organisations including The Bangkok Post and The Nation newspapers evacuated their office after a threat from protesters accusing them of biased reporting.

"The situation is worse than expected now and it’s very difficult to stop," said Kavee Chukitsakem, head of research, Kasikorn Securities. "After the red shirt leaders surrendered, things were out of control. It’s like insects flying around from one place to another, causing irritation. We don’t know who they are and why they are doing this."


Violence also spread to northeast Thailand, a red shirt stronghold, where protesters stormed a town hall complex in the city of Udon Thani, setting a building ablaze, and torched a second town hall in Khon Kaen.

Unrest was reported in three other provinces.

Three journalists were among 50 people wounded and one Western journalist, identified as an Italian, was killed.

Troops and armoured vehicles broke through the protesters’ three-metre-high (10 feet) barricades of tyres and bamboo, and fired tear gas and automatic rifle-fire at the protesters.

Two bodies were found on Ratchadamri Road, which leads to the main protest site after troops followed the army vehicle into the encampment, a Reuters witness said. They appeared to have been shot. The "red shirts" fired back, witnesses said.

Protesters ignited walls of tyres as the troops arrived, causing thick black smoke to billow high over skyscrapers and hiding thousands of demonstrators who have occupied the heart of Bangkok’s commercial district for more than six weeks.

The mostly rural and urban poor protestors broadly support former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a graft-convicted populist billionaire ousted in a 2006 coup and living in self-imposed exile to avoid jail.

Thaksin raised the spectre of insurrection in a telephone interview with Reuters on Wednesday. "There is a theory saying a military crackdown can spread resentment and these resentful people will become guerrillas," he said, but declined to say where he was speaking from.

"For investors, it is going to take years to bring credibility back to the country,". The market fundamentals are just not the same any more, said Kongkiat Opaswongkarn, head of Asia Plus Securities.

The military offensive came a day after the collapse of a proposal for talks aimed at ending five days of chaotic street fighting that descended into urban warfare.

The red shirts accuse the British-born, Oxford-educated Abhisit of lacking a popular mandate after coming to power in a controversial parliamentary vote in 2008 with tacit backing from the military. They have demanded immediate elections.

Troops over the past few days had thrown a cordon around the protest site, a "tent city" at the Rachaprasong intersection, paralysing the heart of Bangkok. Hundreds of women and children have taken refuge in a temple inside the protest area.

Protesters have stockpiled food, water, and supplies in the encampment since Thursday when the assassination of a major-general allied to the red shirts, and an army operation to pressure them, sparked the latest wave of violence that has killed 68 people and wounded more than 1,700 since the demonstrations began in mid-March. (Additional reporting by Nopporn Wong-Anan, Michael Perry and Ambika Ahuja; Writing by Jason Szep; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

May 19, 2010

Troops, armored carriers advance near Bangkok protest

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai troops and armored vehicles massed in Bangkok’s main business district on Wednesday and fired warning shots into the air ahead of a possible operation to evict anti-government protesters from their fortified encampment.

Troops called on protesters and civilians to leave their fortified encampment in central Bangkok and surrounding areas immediately.

May 18, 2010

Troops, armored vehicles near Bangkok protest site

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Large numbers of Thai troops and armored vehicles gathered early on Wednesday near a fortified encampment of anti-government protesters in Bangkok in what may be the start of a crackdown to disperse them, Reuters witnesses said.

A leader of the red-shirted protesters called on supporters to fight the army, saying he feared an imminent offensive on their protest site occupied by thousands in the heart of Bangkok’s commercial district for more than six weeks.

May 17, 2010

Final Thai crackdown feared as guests evacuate

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Guests hurriedly evacuated a luxury hotel in central Bangkok on Monday after it came under attack, while anti-government demonstrators battled troops with a final crackdown on their protest encampment feared imminent.

Across the city, people were hoarding food and hotels were pleading for guests to leave. Schools have been closed and while Monday and Tuesday were declared public holidays, markets and banks remained open.

May 17, 2010

Rogue soldier allied to Thai “red shirts” dies

BANGKOK (Reuters) – A renegade Thai soldier seen as the de facto military adviser to anti-government “red shirt” protesters died on Monday, the director of the hospital where he was being treated after an assassination attempt said.

Major General Khattiya Sawasdipol, better known as Seh Daeng, was shot in the head on Thursday, an incident that fuelled the latest flare-up in violence in Bangkok between troops and protesters trying to overthrow the government.

May 17, 2010

Soldier dies in Thai fighting; luxury hotel hit

BANGKOK (Reuters) – A soldier died in fighting between Thai troops and anti-government protesters in Bangkok early on Monday officials said, after authorities rejected demands for U.N.-supervised talks to end two months of protests.

A Reuters photographer reported heavy fighting during the night at the luxury Dusit Thani Hotel in the Silom area, right opposite one of the barricades set up by the “red shirt” protesters around their 3 sq-km (1.2 sq-mile) encampment.

Apr 14, 2010

Thai protesters move to “final battleground”

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s “red shirt” protesters congregated in their thousands at an upmarket Bangkok shopping district on Wednesday, preparing a “final battleground” in their campaign to oust army-backed Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

About 20,000 had gathered in the commercial heart of the city by early evening as the prospect of further impasse looked set to clip growth in Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy after clashes on Saturday killed 23 in Thailand’s bloodiest political violence since 1992.

Apr 14, 2010

Thai protesters move to "final battleground"

BANGKOK, April 14 (Reuters) – Thailand’s "red shirt" protesters congregated in their thousands at an upmarket Bangkok shopping district on Wednesday, preparing a "final battleground" in their campaign to oust army-backed Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

About 20,000 had gathered in the commercial heart of the city by early evening as the prospect of further impasse looked set to clip growth in Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy after clashes on Saturday killed 23 in Thailand’s bloodiest political violence since 1992.

"We will use the Rachaprasong area as the final battleground to oust the government," protest leader Nattawut Saikua told reporters on Wednesday, referring to the hotel and shopping district a couple of blocks from Bangkok’s financial area.

"There will be no more negotiations."

The "red shirts", who have vowed "final" days of reckoning before, want Abhisit to quit office and dissolve parliament ahead of new elections. They were fast leaving a protest site close to Saturday’s clashes to consolidate at Rachaprasong, which they have occupied for the past 10 days. <^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

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Red shirts and their vehicles spilled over a few blocks around the intersection. Some were setting up tents at another junction next to the business district on Silom Road.

"We are staying here until this government is gone," said Ratchada Pumsin, a 46-year-old housewife from the outskirts of Bangkok. "I think our chance of winning is high."

At Victory Monument several kilometres away, more than 1,000 counter-protesters gathered calling for peace and showing support for the government, raising the risk of a potential clash.

Some were carrying pictures of the country’s revered monarch and waving Thai and royal flags.

"We met on Facebook and we agree the red shirts need to go because they are causing trouble for Bangkok. We want to show that they are not the only ones with political rights," said a female participant who asked not to be named. "We hope our movement will be a catalyst for change for the better."

The red shirts’ decision to gather in one place gives them a strategic advantage, said Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, a political analyst at the National Institute of Development Administration.

"It’s safer for them in the Rachaprasong area and with a large crowd, chances of the security forces moving in are slim," he said.

The area is home to Central World <CPN.BK>, the second-largest shopping complex in Southeast Asia, and other big malls, which shut their doors when the protests began.

"They are holding the economy as their hostage," said Ramkhamhaeng University political scientist Boonyakiat Karavekphan.

Investment bank Morgan Stanley calculates economic growth this year could be cut by 0.2 percentage points due to the impact on tourism, which accounts for 6 percent of gross domestic product in the "Land of Smiles" and employs 1.8 million people.


Bangkok was peaceful on Wednesday during the second day of the three-day Thai New Year called Songkran, after protesters called off a planned a march on an army base where Abhisit has taken shelter.

Tens of thousands of revellers took to the streets of Bangkok on Tuesday night, dousing each other with water and flour in traditional celebrations.

But tension could flare again when the holiday ends, and financial markets are likely to see renewed selling when they reopen on Friday.

Abhisit, who had been expected to ride out the storm, appears more vulnerable now after the surprise announcement this week of an investigation into possible corrupt funding of his party and comments from the army chief that only polls could end a crisis that has gripped Thailand since 2006.

Abhisit has said he could call elections by the end of the year, although his hand could be forced by a recommendation this week from the Election Commission that his Democrat Party should face charges of illegal funding.

If a court upholds the charges, Abhisit, who came to power in 2008 when the army brokered a deal in parliament, could be banned from holding office and Thailand’s oldest political party could be dissolved. Any prosecution could take months, however.

Chumpol Silpa-Archa, leader of the Charthai Pattana party, said coalition partners still supported Abhisit.

"We have no intention to pull out, but we want to see a clear roadmap to resolve the crisis, which eventually leads to a dissolution of parliament," he said.

Coalition partners have been calling on Abhisit to dissolve parliament within six months.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thuagsuban ordered police to hunt for "terrorists" the government blames for the killings in the old quarter on Saturday. More than 800 people were injured in the army’s failed attempt to eject protesters from that site.

The streets are still stained with blood, and makeshift Buddhist shrines have been set up near wrecked army personnel carriers daubed with Thai graffiti, such as "tyrant Abhisit".

The confrontation pits the mostly rural and working-class supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a 2006 coup and now living abroad, and a traditional elite represented by the British-born and Oxford-educated Abhisit. (Writing by Nick Macfie; Additional reporting by Ambika Ahuja; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

Apr 10, 2010

Thai troops open fire, move in on “red shirts”

BANGKOK, April 10 (Reuters) – Thai troops fired rubber
bullets and smoke bombs at thousands of “red shirt”
demonstrators in Bangkok on Saturday in the biggest
confrontation of a month-long street protest for new elections.

At least 135 people, including dozens of soldiers and
police, were wounded in the violence near the Phan Fah bridge
and Rajdumnoen Road, a red shirt base near government buildings
and the regional U.N. headquarters.

    • About Damir

      "Born in Sarajevo in 1971. Damir joined Reuters as a staff photographer in 1997. He has covered major events in the Balkans, Middle East and Americas and is currently chief photographer in Thailand. Damir was in the Bosnian army for five years and worked for the Paris-based Sipa press agency as their Bosnian photographer. The opinions expressed are his own."
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