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Page last updated at 11:31 GMT, Tuesday, 6 April 2010 12:31 UK

Thai protesters defy police with Bangkok marches

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Thai protesters clash with police

Anti-government protesters in Thailand have defied a government ban to march through more areas of Bangkok, shutting down parts of the city.

The government had ordered the red-shirts, as the protesters are known, not to demonstrate along 11 key routes.

But the reds, who are calling on the government to step down, fanned out into Bangkok's business district.

The move followed scuffles earlier in the day between riot police and protesters.

No-one was hurt but it marked the first clash since the protests began almost a month ago.

Arrest warrants have now been issued for ten of the red-shirt leaders.

But the court ruled that the arrests can only be made if the leaders are on the stage that the protesters have set up at their camp in Bangkok's shopping hub.

'Offensive move'

The red-shirts have now established two camps in Bangkok - one in the government district and a second in the city's commercial centre.

Their blockade has caused shops to close and tourists to leave hotels.

If there's anything blocking us, break in with peace
Protest leader Nattawut Saikua

Early on Tuesday, they announced plans to march through parts of the city declared off-limits by the government.

Brief scuffles broke out as riot police blocked their way. Protesters pelted police with eggs and plastic bottles, but the scuffles subsided with no injury to either side.

The red-shirts then suspended their plans only to reinstate them hours later.

"From now we will make an offensive move," a protest leader Nattawut Saikua told the crowd. "Let our people ... march to all the banned 11 routes immediately. If there's anything blocking us, break in with peace."

Anti-government protesters use barriers to push back riot police in Bangkok, Thailand, 6 April 2010
Some red-shirts clashed briefly with riot police in Bangkok

Groups of red-shirts then rallied in Bangkok's business district, carrying flags and riding on motorbikes.

The security forces have said publicly that they will not use force to disperse the protestors.

But the BBC's South East Asia correspondent, Rachel Harvey, says that having kept a deliberately low profile for weeks, they are now a very visible presence.

The government sought to calm the atmosphere.

"The rally is illegal, but there will be no crackdown. We will review our measures," army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said.

Both sides have said from the start that they want to avoid violence. A court ruled on Monday that the government had the power to evict the protesters under existing special security legislation.

More than three years after the army deposed Thaksin Shinawatra as Thailand's prime minister, instability continues to grip the country.

The red-shirts are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who came to power in the wake of the military-backed coup.

They say they will not move from Bangkok until their demands for fresh elections are met. Last week the two sides held talks but discussions broke up without resolution.


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