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Thai army shooting anti-government protesters
May 15, 2010
BANGKOK – Thousands of Thai protesters refused to leave Bangkok’s streets on Sunday despite three days of fighting that has killed 24 people and spiraled into chaotic urban warfare, with both sides calling for reinforcements.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva vowed on Saturday to stop mostly rural and urban poor protesters from toppling his government, which is backed by Thailand’s royalist elite, a group the protesters accuse of subverting democracy.
The streets were quiet but tense on Sunday a day after soldiers fired live rounds at demonstrators who fought back with petrol bombs, rocks and crude homemade rockets in two major areas of the city, as the army tried to isolate a sprawling encampment in central Bangkok occupied by the protesters for six weeks.
“We will not retreat,” Abhisit said in a televised statement late on Saturday. “We cannot allow the country to be in a condition in which people can establish an armed group to topple the government that they are not happy with.”
On their part, the “red shirt” protesters accuse Abhisit and his royalist backers of meddling in the judicial system in the past to bring down elected governments and put themselves in power.
Many protest leaders now face terrorism charges that carry a maximum penalty of death, raising the confrontation’s stakes.
The protesters, who have adopted red as a protest color and broadly support former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, set fire to vehicles and hurled rocks at troops who set up razor wire across deserted roads on Saturday in the business district.
Soldiers can shoot if protesters come within 120 feet of army lines, said army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd, adding more soldiers were needed to establish control.
The crisis has paralyzed Bangkok, squeezed Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy, scared off tourists and choked investment in one of Asia’s most promising emerging markets.
Witnesses describe the bloodshed as largely one-sided, as troops armed with automatic rifles easily dodge projectiles and open fire with automatic weapons. Some protesters have been killed by snipers positioned on the tops of office towers.
No soldiers have been identified in the official tolls that show 24 people killed and 198 wounded.
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