Page last updated at 14:28 GMT, Monday, 17 May 2010 15:28 UK

Thai protesters defy orders to leave their Bangkok camp


The BBC's Chris Hogg ducked for cover as a projectile flew out of the camp

Anti-government protesters in Bangkok have defied orders to leave their fortified camp in the Thai capital.

The protesters - many of them women - continued to clap and cheer speakers on stage in the centre of their vast camp as a deadline passed.

Soldiers have been shooting live rounds to keep protesters at a distance as one government minister said the operation to "seal the area" would continue.

Violence since Thursday has left 36 dead, and some 250 injured.

One of those killed was the renegade Thai general Khattiya Sawasdipol, who died on Monday five days after being shot in the head.

The general, who was better known as Seh Daeng (Commander Red), was hit from a distance by an unidentified attacker as he spoke to reporters about his backing for the protest movement.

The red-shirts say a military sniper carried out the attack, an accusation the government has denied.

'Don't be afraid'

The Thai government has said it is prepared to talk to the protesters as long as they show "sincerity" by leaving the fortified camp they have built over the past two months in the centre of Bangkok.

The "red-shirt" protest leaders, for their part, said they would consider the offer of talks but refused to abandon their positions.

Rachel Harvey
Rachel Harvey, BBC News, Bangkok
I am standing in the centre of the protesters' camp, in front of the stage.

The deadline has just passed. But there are still people up on stage giving speeches and there are still people sitting and standing in front of them, cheering and clapping.

There aren't as many people here as there once were and I would say the majority of people sitting on the ground in front of the stage are women.

Every now and again people look up in the air. They can hear an aircraft going overhead.

They know they've been told that they had the chance to leave, but those that are here are defiantly staying put.

On Sunday, they proposed UN-mediated talks on condition the government pulled back its troops, but the government rejected the request saying it could resolve the crisis internally.

On Monday, loudspeakers, TV announcements and mobile phone messages were used to warn the protesters - particularly women, children and the elderly - they should leave by 1500 (0800 GMT).

The government offered free transportation home for those who left, warning that the area was not safe and anyone who stayed could face up to two years in prison.

But few of the 5,000 remaining protesters appeared to heed the call.

The BBC's Rachel Harvey, in the protesters' camp, said that as the deadline passed speeches were still being given and people - the majority of them women - were clapping and cheering them on.

"We will stay here persistently. And we'll ask (tell) every people don't be afraid. Just sit still and stand still here. And don't fight back. And if they would like to kill us, let them kill us," protest leader Weng Tojirakarn told demonstrators.

A group of more than 300 people who sought refuge in a nearby temple have told volunteers there that they do not trust the government's offer of safe passage and do not dare to leave, the BBC was told.

Satit Wonghnongtaey, a minister attached to the prime minister's office, said the government would not back down in its attempt "to tighten the seal around the protest area".

"We would like to urge fellow citizens to be careful and protect themselves," he said.

Hospitals in the capital were reported to be preparing for a large influx of casualties, if the military operation intensified.

Northern unrest

The BBC's Chris Hogg is out on the streets of Bangkok and says the situation remains very tense.

Map of protest areas in Bangkok

He says Thai soldiers are pursuing a policy of containment by fire, shooting live rounds towards the encampment in an effort to keep protesters at a safe distance from them.

There was fresh fighting along a street of upmarket hotels overnight, which saw the first death among the soldiers.

Guests at one of the hotels, the Dusit Thani, were rushed from their rooms into the building's basement after gunfire and explosions shook the area.

A state of emergency has now been declared in 22 provinces across the country - mostly in the protesters' northern heartlands - in a bid to stop more demonstrators heading to the capital.

14 Mar: Red-shirts converge on Bangkok, occupy government district
16 Mar: Protesters splash their own blood at Government House
30 Mar: Talks with government ends in deadlock
3 Apr: Occupy Bangkok shopping district
10 Apr: Troops try to clear protesters; 25 people are killed and hundreds injured
13-17 May: 36 killed in Bangkok clashes

Protests have spread outside the capital with a military bus torched in the northern city of Chiang Mai and demonstrations in two north-eastern towns in defiance of a government ban.

Chiang Mai is the home town of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra - who was ousted in a 2006 coup and now lives overseas to avoid a jail term for a conflict of interest conviction.

Many of the protesters are from poor rural areas in northern Thailand where support is still strong for Mr Thaksin.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has declared Monday and Tuesday public holidays and delayed the start of Bangkok's school term.

The protesters say the current government is illegitimate, having come to power in a parliamentary vote after a pro-Thaksin government was forced to step down in December 2008 by a Constitutional Court ruling that it had committed electoral fraud.

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