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Page last updated at 12:29 GMT, Thursday, 15 April 2010 13:29 UK

Thai protesters settle into city centre

Red-shirts settle into central Bangkok on 15 April 2010
The red-shirts now occupy a large area of Bangkok's shopping district

Tens of thousands of red-shirted anti-government protesters in Thailand have settled into the commercial heart of the capital, Bangkok.

Their leaders say they expect another effort to shift them in the coming days after last weekend's failed military operation which left 23 people dead.

But government officials say they remain open to talks, and have no plans to try to clear the red-shirts.

The political conflict is entering its fifth week with no resolution in sight.

"If the government still wants to retake this area, we can do nothing except wait. We have overcome fear. Nothing can scare us anymore," said a red-shirt leader, Nattawut Saikuar.

AT THE SCENE
Rachel Harvey
By Rachel Harvey, BBC News, Bangkok

Overnight a lot more people and a lot more equipment and resources have been moved into this area... there are a lot of tented awnings that have been set up.

I can see some bits of tarpaulin hanging off metal poles to create washing cubicles with water inside where people can keep themselves clean. And a decent distance away from that, street food stalls. A lot of food and water is being brought in from outside on a regular basis.

It has been more relaxed in atmosphere in the last couple of days because of the Buddhist New Year Songkran - a festival in which an awful lot of water and some white paste flour gets thrown around.

But there is still a sense of tension here. There are people on both sides now hardening their positions, there are people on both sides now calling for negotiations and the key question is which of those voices will eventually win out.

Government estimates were that around 30,000 red shirts had gathered by Wednesday evening.

"The government is ready to talk whenever the reds want, but the reds said they don't want to," said government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn.

"All political conflicts end at the negotiating table," he told AFP.

BBC South East Asia correspondent Rachel Harvey says the red-shirts have consolidated in the city's commercial heart for fear of a new crackdown, reasoning this area would be much harder for security forces to clear.

The red-shirts' encampment now stretches from the Chitlom to National Stadium areas of central Bangkok, with some protesters taking a break from the heat in the central Lumpini Park.

The district is home to major shopping centres, five-star hotels and office buildings, many of which have been closing early, or completely closed, over the past 10 days.

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

They have rejected the government's latest offer to dissolve parliament in six months.

Mr Abhisit has rejected calls to step down - and has not made any public statement in several days.

Human Rights Watch has urged the Thai government to keep its promise to set up an independent commission to investigate last weekend's deadly clashes.

Five soldiers and 18 civilians were killed when security forces tried to clear the red-shirts from one of their camps.

All parties should immediately cease political violence, the New York-based group said, and the government should hold those responsible accountable.

It also called for an end to censorship of a satellite television station, more than 10 radio and television stations, and 36 internet sites.



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