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Page last updated at 14:14 GMT, Monday, 12 April 2010 15:14 UK

Thai army faces protest dilemma

Red-shirts and riot police in Bangkok, Thailand (12 April 2010)
The security forces know the Bangkok stand-off cannot continue

By Alastair Leithead
BBC News, Bangkok

After a violent weekend on the streets of Bangkok both the military and the protestors tried to take the initiative by drawing attention to losses each side had suffered.

While the soldiers returned to barracks, the red shirt-wearing demonstrators continued their occupation of parts of the city centre and paraded through the streets in convoy, bearing flag-draped coffins.

It was a largely symbolic gesture, but the 15 coffins - taken to the prime minister's house and around Bangkok before being placed amid flowers and photographs at the city's Democracy Monument - made an emotive statement about the violent clashes on Saturday.

The crowds continued to demand the immediate dissolution of parliament by the prime minister and seemed buoyed by the retreat they had forced onto the military.

The commander-in-chief of the armed forces said he thought the "best solution" would be to dissolve parliament, but that it was a political decision.

The prime minister addressed the nation shortly afterwards making it clear this was not on his agenda.

'No weapons'

The army allowed journalists into Phramongkut Military Hospital to see some of the soldiers injured in the fighting.

Hospital workers treat an injured protesters in Bangkok, Thailand (10 April 2010)
Doctors say some of the injured had bullet or shrapnel wounds

Trauma doctor Col Peerapol Pokpong said more than 200 required hospital treatment and half of them had been affected by tear gas or had suffered minor injuries.

He said at least 23 had been hit by bullets or shrapnel from small explosions.

We spoke to a number of troops who had been hurt in what was the worst violence in Bangkok in 18 years.

"I had no weapon at all but a stick and a shield," said Private Nattapong Norasan, 21, who was shot in the leg.

"I am angry about what happened as I didn't expect it would be as serious, as violent, as it turned out to be," he said.

Senior officers visited the hospital to see the injured.

There is uncertainty over what will happen next, with the government in a difficult position having been made to look weak by threatening to move protesters on before withdrawing in disarray.

The limitation of the military and the government is that they cannot use violence - but what else can they do?
Prof Suchit Bunbongkarn

Throughout the four weeks of protest the government has tried to handle the demonstrations without the use of force, but violence erupted when they tried to disperse crowds in the centre of Bangkok.

Last April, a quick and effective show of force broke up the demonstrations, but the red-shirted crowds appeared more determined this time, advancing through tear gas and water canon rather than retreating.

Some elements within the red shirts also had firearms.

Prof Suchit Bunbongkarn, a military specialist at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, said the military and the government was now in a difficult position.

"If they want to continue to maintain law and order they have to adjust their strategies. They cannot afford to let this kind of thing go on as the public will not allow it indefinitely," he said.

"The limitation of the military and the government is that they cannot use violence - but what else can they do?

"They are not trained to do anything except using weapons, but they are now asked not to use violence so it is a problem with how to deal with this mass protest."



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