Thai Troops Seize Protest Areas; Red Shirt Leaders Surrender

Thai security forces backed by armored vehicles seized control of a protest site in central Bangkok and detained several of the group’s leaders after a six- week standoff. “We want to announce an end to the protest,” Nattawut Saikuar, one of several Red Shirt leaders, told supporters in a live broadcast from the camp’s main stage. “We want to stop more injuries and deaths,” he said before rushing off to the sound of sporadic gunfire.


(Reuters)

Thai security forces backed by armored vehicles seized control of a protest site in central Bangkok and detained several of the group’s leaders after a six- week standoff.

“We want to announce an end to the protest,” Nattawut Saikuar, one of several Red Shirt leaders, told supporters in a live broadcast from the camp’s main stage. “We want to stop more injuries and deaths,” he said before rushing off to the sound of sporadic gunfire.

Police escorted protest organizers from the area, TNN News footage showed. The government is offering safe passage to people wishing to leave the main encampment, spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said earlier today in a televised broadcast.

Street battles in the past week between security forces and demonstrators killed more than 40 people, worsening Thailand’s deadliest political turmoil in almost two decades. The Red Shirts, who view Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s rule as illegitimate, drew thousands of supporters to their two-month protest, underscoring the nation’s widening class divide.

Today’s clashes killed four people including an Italian journalist, Petchpong Kumjornkijjakarn, head of Bangkok’s medical emergency unit, told reporters. Gunfire could still be heard around the site after the government’s announcement.

“If they move closer to the stage, more lives will be lost,” said Jatuporn Prompam, another protest leader.

Kasikornbank Pcl, Thailand’s third-biggest bank by assets, said a fire broke out at a branch on Rama IV Road near the main protest area. Plumes of black smoke rose above the edge of the site. Soldiers advanced along Wireless Road and television footage showed army vehicles smashing through barricades.

The Bank of Thailand ordered all financial institutions in the capital to close at 1 p.m. because of security concerns, it said in a statement. The benchmark SET Index rose 0.7 percent before closing at the morning break. The baht fell 0.1 percent.

Provincial Support

Red shirt supporters set fire to a city hall in Udon Thani Province in northeast Thailand, INN News reported. In northeast Khon Kaen, protesters broke into the city hall to demand an end to the military assault in Bangkok, Channel 3 TV said.

Exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, to whom many of the protesters express loyalty, called for direct talks between the government and rally organizers.

Nine people were submitted to the Police General Hospital at the camp site with injuries this morning, three with gunshot wounds, director Jongjate Aojanepong said by phone today.

Deepening Divisions

“After today the divisions in the country will get even deeper,” said Michael Nelson, a visiting scholar at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. “How can you have a stable political system when two large areas of the country are no-go zones for the two major political parties?”

Many demonstrators are loyal to Thaksin, a billionaire who won over the poor in the northeast of the country by giving them cheap health care and loans. The demonstrators, angered by one of Asia’s widest income gaps, say Abhisit embodies a privileged class of military officers, judges bureaucrats and royal advisers that sits above the law.

Thaksin, who was ousted by the Thai army in 2006, fled the country in 2008 before a court sentenced him to two years in prison for helping his wife buy land from the government while still in power.

Since 1946, when King Bhumibol Adulyadej took the Thai throne as an 18-year-old, Thailand has seen nine coups and more than 20 prime ministers. Only two of 17 constitutions since absolute monarchy ended in 1932 have mandated parliaments that are entirely elected. The king, who is revered across the nation, has been in hospital since Sept. 19 and hasn’t spoken publicly about the current demonstrations.

Abhisit himself has never won a national election: He was picked by legislators in December 2008 after a court dissolved the pro-Thaksin ruling party for election fraud. The decision coincided with the seizure of Bangkok’s airports by protesters wearing yellow shirts who oppose Thaksin.

--With assistance from Anuchit Nguyen and Suttinee Yuvejwattana in Bangkok, and Katrina Nicholas in Singapore. Editors: Bill Austin, Patrick Harrington

source : businessweek