Page last updated at 15:30 GMT, Wednesday, 14 April 2010 16:30 UK

Thai protesters combine camps as march cancelled

Red-shirt protesters in Bangkok, Thailand (14 April 2010)
The red-shirts say they expect another crackdown within days

Thailand's anti-government protesters have begun consolidating their forces at one camp in the centre of Bangkok, saying they expect another crackdown.

But with the onset of the three-day New Year "Songkran" festival, large numbers of the red-shirted protesters appeared to have left the city.

The organisers have cancelled plans for a march on an army barracks.

The protesters are demanding that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolve parliament and call new elections.

The protesters, who withstood a failed army crackdown at the weekend, have rejected the government's latest offer to dissolve parliament in six months.

Mr Abhisit has rejected calls to step down.

'Final round'

"We will use the Rachaprasong areas as the final battleground to oust the government," protest leader Nattawut Saikua told reporters, in a reference to the main junction where several five-star hotels and shopping centres are located.

"There will be no more negotiations, no more talks.

"We believe the government will try to disperse us again in the next couple of days. We're organising our movement to fight.

"We hope it will be the final round between us and this government," he added.

Correspondents said this suggested both that numbers of protesters had dwindled due to the new year festivities, and that the goal is to cause the most disruption to businesses and traffic.

The Rachaprasong junction has been blocked for days, and shopping centres chose to close early on Tuesday.

The situation is affecting the confidence in the security and stability in the region and if it is left to fester and escalate, it could lead to more violence and loss of life
Surin Pitsuwan

Secretary General, Asean

The earlier protest camp, on Phan Fa Bridge near Democracy Monument in the old city centre, has historical resonance but is in a quieter part of town.

"We will stay at main protest sites during Songkran. We will decide after festivities are over how to step up protests if Abhisit is still stubborn," said Weng Tojirakan, one of the leaders of the red-shirts.

Analysts have said pressure is growing on Mr Abhisit since the Election Commission recommended his Democrat Party be disbanded due to questions raised over past party donations.

The secretary general of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), Surin Pitsuwan, has issued a strongly worded statement expressing concern about the instability in Thailand.

'Protection shots'

"The deteriorating situation in Thailand between demonstrators and government security forces in Bangkok has caused serious concern among Asean member states and the world at large.

"The situation is affecting the confidence in the security and stability in the region and if it is left to fester and escalate, it could lead to more violence and loss of life," the former Thai foreign minister said.

On Wednesday, the army defended its use of live ammunition but again denied that troops had targeted protesters.

Army spokesman Sansern Kaewkumnerd said live bullets had been fired into the air or "to protect themselves while pulling back rather than targeting opponents".

"They were firing one bullet after another, rather than spraying a whole round," Reuters quoted him as saying.

Eighteen civilians died in the unrest - including a Japanese cameraman working for Reuters news agency.

At least five soldiers were also killed and 800 other people were injured.

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