Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Defense News: DTN News: Thailand TODAY May 19, 2010 ~ Thai Protest Leaders Surrender After Deadly Clashes

Defense News: DTN News: Thailand TODAY May 19, 2010 ~ Thai Protest Leaders Surrender After Deadly Clashes
Source: DTN News / Reuters
(NSI News Source Info) BANGKOK, Thailand - May 19, 2010: Four senior Thai anti-government protest leaders surrendered to police on Wednesday after troops stormed their encampment, sparking clashes that killed at least four people, as violence rocked other areas of the city.
Using armored vehicles and firing semi-automatic weapons from an overpass, soldiers made an early morning advance on an area occupied for more than six weeks by thousands "red shirt" demonstrators in Bangkok's commercial heart.
As they moved close to the main protest site, top protest leaders offered to surrender on the main stage as supporters urged them to fight on, many screaming and crying as gun fire rang out nearby.
Moments later, live television showed the four in police custody, urging supporters to go home.
The army spokesman said in a television broadcast the protest site was under army control and the military had halted operations.
As the leaders were surrendering, three grenades exploded outside the main protest site, badly wounding two soldiers and a foreign journalist, a Reuters witness said. Protesters were also burning tires in other areas of the city.
Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said the military had successfully gained control of the Lumpini Park area south of the protest site.
Unrest was spreading to other areas of Thailand. Protesters also stormed a town hall complex in the northeastern city of Udon Thani, setting a building ablaze.
Three journalists were among 50 people wounded and one Western journalist, identified as an Italian was killed, a hospital said.
Troops and armored vehicles broke through three-meter-high barricades of tires and bamboo in an operation to squeeze thousands of anti-government protesters from their fortified camp in central Bangkok.
Troops fired tear gas and automatic rifles at the red-shirted protesters but halted the advance before reaching a stage where an estimated 3,000 demonstrators were rallying.
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 tires 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.
Protesters have already taken over intersections at two other places in the capital of 15 million people, one of the world's more popular urban tourist destinations.
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 specter 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.
He denied an accusation by a top aide of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva that he was the stumbling block for failed talks between the government and the "red shirt" leaders.
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 that killed 39 people and wounded more than 300.
Two buildings were on fire on the periphery of the protest encampment, a bank and a government building.
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, paralyzing 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)

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