Page last updated at 22:57 GMT, Saturday, 15 May 2010 23:57 UK

Thailand PM Abhisit in pledge to end Bangkok protest


The BBC's Chris Hogg says the army has warned of 'live fire areas'

Thailand's PM Abhisit Vejjajiva has said troops will "push forward" with an operation to end an anti-government protest in the heart of Bangkok.

He said military intervention was the only way to end the protest.

Clashes between troops and protesters killed six on Saturday, bringing the toll from three days of violence to 24.

There have been running battles around the fortified camp where red-shirted protesters, who want the prime minister to resign, have been based since March.

Rachel Harvey
Rachel Harvey,
BBC News, Bangkok
Within the camp, men and women, young and old, are sleeping on mats, preparing food, or listening to speeches from a specially erected stage.

The rhetoric is becoming every more strident. The more radical leaders appear to have the upper hand now and are warning of further bloodshed if troops continue their operation to seal off the area.

A group of young men, most dressed in black, look out nervously from behind their barricade of bamboo staves and tyres.

There is a loud explosion a short distance away, and there is panic as protesters rush for cover. For now an area in the commercial centre of the Thai capital is a no-go zone.

In his first televised comments since the violence erupted on Thursday, Mr Abhisit said he was trying to restore normality to the city with minimal loss.

"What the government and the security agencies are doing at the moment is necessary," he said.

"We can't allow a situation where people set up armed groups and overthrow the government because they don't agree with it... We cannot retreat because what we're doing is for the good of the majority of the people."

He said a minority of red-shirts opposed to dialogue were putting the stability of the country at risk. "We will not retreat," he said.

Authorities earlier ruled out negotiations with the red-shirt faction, several thousand of whom remain in a camp barricaded by piles of bamboo, concrete blocks, razor-wire and burning tyres.

Explosions and gunfire

Saturday saw a continuation of the sporadic skirmishes around the camp that have marked the past few days.

Thick, black smoke curled into the air from piles of burning tyres as protesters threw petrol bombs and fireworks towards the army lines and soldiers responded with rubber bullets and in some cases, live rounds.

Earlier in the day, troops designated areas of the Thai capital as "live firing zones" in a warning to protesters.

An anti-government protester next to the wreckage of an army truck in Bangkok, 15 May
There have been running battles around the barricaded camp

The army says it is tightening its grip around the camp, which has taken over Rajprasong, a commercial district of high-end shops, hotels and embassies in central Bangkok, in order to starve it of reinforcements and supplies.

Army spokesman Col Sansern Kaewkamnerd said about 5,000 protesters remained, down from twice that number a few days ago.

He said more troops would be called to keep up the pressure and eliminate the protest base if necessary.

"If the protesters will not end the situation, we will have to enter the encampment," he added.

Residents were being asked at security checkpoints to produce identification showing they lived in the area.

One of the protest leaders, Nattawut Saikua, told the encampment that help would be provided.

"We have been contacted by leaders in several provinces that they will mobilise to help us pressure the government," Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.

14 Mar: Red-shirts converge on Bangkok, hold first big rally, occupy government district
16 Mar: Protesters splash their own blood at Government House
30 Mar: A round of talks with the government ends in deadlock
3 Apr: Red-shirts occupy Bangkok shopping district
7 Apr: PM Abhisit orders state of emergency
10 Apr: Troops try to clear protesters; 25 people are killed and hundreds injured
22 Apr: Grenade blasts kill one and injure 85 near protest hub; each side blames the other
28 Apr: Policeman shot in clashes in northern Bangkok
13-14 May: 16 killed in Bangkok clashes
15 May: Six killed in street battles

There were reports on Saturday evening that about 2,000 anti-government protesters had gathered on a main road near the camp.

Some 170 people have been injured since the latest violence broke out on Thursday, and 27 people have been sent to jail, each given six-month sentences. All the fatalities have been civilians.

More than 50 people have been killed and at least 1,500 wounded in total since the protests began in mid-March, Thai officials have said.

Despite claims by the Thai government that the situation was under control and its soldiers had only fired in self-defence, army snipers have been accused of targeting protesters, and footage from Bangkok on Saturday showed red-shirts dragging gunshot victims to safety.

The violence escalated on Thursday after a renegade general who supports the protests was shot in the head by an unknown gunman.

Gen Khattiya Sawasdipol, better known as Seh Daeng (Commander Red), is in a critical condition.

Embassy advice

About a third of the city is now under emergency rule, but while there are pockets of fighting, life beyond the barricades seems to be going on as normal, correspondents say.

The US embassy has stepped up its travel warnings, advising its citizens to stay away from Bangkok, and is offering to evacuate family members of diplomatic staff. The British Embassy, meanwhile, has warned there could be intense violence.

The US has encouraged the two sides "to find a way to work peacefully through these differences", while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has also urged restraint.

Many of the protesters support former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup.

They want Mr Abhisit to dissolve parliament and call fresh elections.

He had offered polls in November - but the two sides failed to agree a deal because of divisions over who should be held accountable for a deadly crackdown on protests last month.

Mr Thaksin has called on the government to withdraw troops and restart negotiations.

Map of central Bangkok

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