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Thai army moves to quell protests

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Thai army moves to quell protests

Post by Taalibah on Mon Apr 13, 2009 11:24 am

The Thai army has fought running battles with protesters in the capital Bangkok in a bid to end days of mass demonstrations and political chaos.

A BBC correspondent saw soldiers fire hundreds of live rounds, some into the crowds of protesters, in a bid to clear them from a major road junction.

The protesters reacted by hurling petrol bombs and driving buses they had commandeered at the lines of troops.

The armed forces chief vowed to restore order using "all possible means".

But weapons would be used only for self-defence and not "excessively", Gen Songkitti Jaggabatara said on national television.

The government has said it is taking measures to secure major ports and airports.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency on Sunday after the protests forced the cancellation of a major meeting of Asian leaders in the resort city of Pattaya.

The red-shirted protesters - many thousands of whom are camped outside Bangkok's Government House - have vowed to stay until Mr Abhisit resigns.

Water cannon

Monday's clashes broke out after the military moved in the early hours to clear around 200 protesters at Din Daeng intersection, around 2km (1.2 miles) from government buildings.

There were hours of skirmishes as demonstrators threw petrol bombs and rocks at lines of troops, who were carrying riot shields and automatic weapons, reports the BBC's Alastair Leithead from the scene.

The soldiers did not break their line until a bus, one of several commandeered by the protesters, was set alight.

They then moved in with water cannon to put out the flames, before opening fire with live rounds.

Many soldiers shot above the protesters' heads, but some were clearly firing into the crowd, our correspondent said.

A second round of firing came after a bus was driven towards the military, before crashing into a motorway barrier.

The prime minister said 70 people had been injured, including 23 soldiers.

Monday is the start of a three-day holiday for the Thai New Year and many people have already left the capital for the provinces.

Cancelled summit

One of the protest leaders accused the army of using excessive force against the protesters.

"We will stand firm indefinitely," Jakrapob Penkair told BBC World Service.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva appealed for calm in a televised appeal.

"Those who want to help the government restore normality can return home," he said.

"The government has carefully mapped out a plan to implement the law".

The collapse of the Asean summit in Pattaya at the weekend caused huge embarrassment to the prime minister, the BBC's Jonathan Head in Bangkok says.

He was filmed on Sunday with the commanders of the army, navy, air force and deputy police chief, saying "the government and security agencies are still unified".

The protesters are supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister who was deposed in a coup in 2006 and now lives in self-imposed exile abroad.

He addressed his supporters by telephone on Sunday, calling for a "revolution".

"Now that they have tanks on the streets, it is time for the people to come out in revolution," he said in a message shown on giant screens near the prime minister's office.

"And when it is necessary, I will come back to the country."

Under the state of emergency, gatherings of more than five people can be banned, media reports can be censored and the army can be deployed to help police maintain order.

Last year, the government imposed a state of emergency on several occasions but the army refused to enact the measures.

That crisis eventually led to Mr Abhisit's government taking over from allies of Mr Thaksin.

The problem for Mr Abhisit is that he came to power in December on the back of protests that were just as illegal, our correspondent says.

He may look hypocritical if he only goes after the red-shirted protesters who embarrassed him.

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