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Page last updated at 09:19 GMT, Friday, 16 April 2010 10:19 UK

Thai police action at red-shirt protest hotel fails

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A red-shirt leader uses a cable to climb down from the hotel

Thai security forces have tried but failed to arrest several red-shirt anti-government protest leaders.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban had said the police were there to catch "terrorists" - the government's word for an alleged protest hard core.

But one leader was filmed climbing down a cable while two others also escaped.

It remains unclear how the government intends to handle the protests - now in their fifth week; protesters are demanding new elections.

"It is an unsuccessful operation, but we will continue further operations," government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn told reporters. "We have to wait for reports from the operation team."

Earlier reports of several policemen "taken hostage" remained unconfirmed.

'Terrorists'

Mr Suthep, who is in charge of security, had earlier said the red-shirt leaders would be detained.

"The government's special team is surrounding the SC Park hotel where we have learned that there are terrorists and some of their leaders hiding," he said.

ANALYSIS
Rachel Harvey
By Rachel Harvey, BBC News, Bangkok

It is fair to say that the rhetoric we are hearing on both sides is hardening. It seems as if there is very little room now for a negotiated settlement, though that is what the more moderate voices are calling for.

But even the government now is talking about "action against terrorists" and calling on those who it describes as innocent demonstrators to separate themselves from the "terrorists" so as not, in the government's words, to be used as human shields.

One protest leader, Arisman Pongruanrong, scaled down the hotel facade into a waiting crowd of red-shirt supporters who then helped him into a car and drove away.

His escape and that of two others was described by observers as a major embarrassment to the government, which is already smarting from its inability to clear the protesters from the city last weekend.

That attempted crackdown left at least 23 people dead and more than 800 injured, many of them members of the security forces.

The government's warnings appear to be intensifying however.

Speaking on national television, Mr Suthep urged "innocent" protesters to leave the anti-government rally site in Bangkok's commercial district.

"Innocent people should leave the protests because the authorities have to take decisive measures against terrorists," he said.

Downturn

The red-shirts had consolidated their protests camps into one in recent days, citing a fear of another crackdown.

Innocent people should leave the protests because the authorities have to take decisive measures against terrorists
Suthep Thaugsuban,
deputy prime minister

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 stock exchange reopened on Friday after a three-day New Year holiday, only to drop 3%. It recorded its first falls in weeks of protests on Monday, after the weekend crackdown.

More protest sympathisers are reported by local media to be heading towards Bangkok from northern provinces.

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 was reported to be planning to speak to the country on Friday but those plans were delayed.

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



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