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Page last updated at 13:36 GMT, Thursday, 22 April 2010 14:36 UK

Bangkok stand-off sparks Thailand army warning

Red-shirt protesters in the Silom business district on 22 April 2010
Protesters have been given a number of demands to leave

Tensions are high in the Thai capital after the military said that time was running out for protesters to leave.

A military spokesman warned of "decisive action" and "chaos", urging protesters to abandon their extensive, fortified camp in Bangkok.

Protests have also escalated in the north of the country, where a train carrying military vehicles was blocked.

The government is under pressure to crack down on the red-shirt protesters, who say they want new elections.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and armed forces commander-in-chief Anupong Paojinda have both said they want a negotiated, non-violent end to the destabilising protests, now in their sixth week.

But few observers are confident a non-violent end can be found to the increasingly militarised stand-off.

'Chaos'

Army spokesman Col Sunsern Kaewkumnerd warned that the protesters' time to move out was "running out".

The government will be very decisive but in the beginning of the operation there may be chaos
Col Sunsern Kaewkumnerd,
army spokesman

"If there is a crackdown, innocent people might get hurt," he said. "If we move in, we will attempt to arrest the leaders.

"The government will be very decisive but in the beginning of the operation there may be chaos."

The warnings echoed other calls in recent days for protesters to leave the city centre.

Officials say the number of red-shirt protesters is diminishing, but thousands remain camped out behind formidable barricades of tyres and sharpened bamboo canes.

Tensions flared late on Wednesday when anti-red protesters gathered at the Silom intersection, where troops are blocking entry to the city's financial district.

Anti-red protesters waving Thai flags hurled abuse at the red-shirts and, around midnight, threw water bottles at the red-shirt front lines.

A pro-government support in Bangkok on 22 April 2010

Two hours later helicopters started circling over the city and, in response, fireworks appeared to be fired off from behind red-shirt lines.

Further north, rallies in support of the reds' protest are continuing on most nights in scores of villages.

In Khon Kaen province, 388km (241 miles) north-east of Bangkok, several hundred red-shirts blocked a train carrying military vehicles, assuming it was carrying supplies to counter their Bangkok protest colleagues.

On being assured the train was heading further south, negotiations allowed the train to pass.

'Cannot talk'

Back in Bangkok, tentative hints of possible new talks between protesters and the government were quashed by comments from several red-shirt leaders.

"When there are guns pointed at our heads, we cannot talk," said a leader, Weng Tojirakarn.

"The easiest way [to resolve the crisis] is to dissolve parliament and then we will all go home."

A group of red-shirts later gathered outside the UN headquarters in Bangkok to request the presence of UN peacekeeping forces.

The BBC's Rachel Harvey says the one thing everyone seems to agree on is that the current tense stand-off cannot persist indefinitely.

The "red-shirt" protest camp remains sprawled through Bangkok's shopping district, forcing shops and hotels to close.

Reports say groups opposed to the red-shirts are planning a rally in Bangkok on Friday, potentially further raising tensions.

A failed attempt by Thai security forces to clear protesters on 10 April left 25 people dead.



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