Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Battle for Bangkok

Protests and occupations have continued in Thailand. A brutal crackdown by Thai authorities has in recent days resulted in 37 deaths, with scores of protestors injured.

Red Shirt protestors have appealed for negotiations, but the government rejected proposals for mediated talks. It is making talks conditional on protestors abandoning their camp in the centre of the capital Bangkok.

Red Shirt leader Nattawut Saikua has declared that protesters support the proposed negotiations, saying "if we allow things to go on like this, we don't know how many more lives will be lost".

Protesters have given accounts of troops firing indiscriminately on them. Even the UN has urged the Thai government to show restraint.

An eyewitness in Bangkok told the BBC yesterday:
'The sound of romantic, mournful music from the Red Shirt encampment last night was interrupted by intermittent gunfire and explosions, and a part of the sky was black with smoke from burning tyres.'

Another eyewitness - an American based in the capital - reported:

"I am surprised that there is quite a bit of talk about red-shirt "terrorists" using guns. I haven't really seen any. Most of the protesters are young guys building barricades from tyres and throwing firecrackers, while the military shoots live rounds back at them.

When I was out there earlier, there were large explosions and gunfire. The military appear to be shooting at will, not out of self defence."

Street protests, and clashes with police and troops, have been intense for the last six days. There are reports of less violence today, but several thousand demonstrators remain in control of the barricaded camp in the centre of Bangkok. This remains a powerful symbol of defiance.

The Red Shirts movement has been occupying Bangkok's shopping district since 3 April, which is impacting hugely on the tourist industry and the wider economy. Schools and government offices remain shut. Trains are suspended.

This pro-democracy movement has been protesting in Bangkok for over two months. It demands fresh elections, saying the current government is illegitimate as it came to power through parliamentary deals rather than an election.

The situation in recent days has been described as close to civil war. Many accounts suggest protestors' morale is lower than a few days ago, though they remain in control of some areas. The future of the movement hangs in the balance.


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