Crisis deepens as urban warfare rages in Bangkok - Yahoo! News
by Anusak Konglang Anusak Konglang – Sat May 15, 6:25 pm ET
BANGKOK (AFP) – Thai troops Sunday remained locked in a tense confrontation with anti-government protesters in the capital where at least 24 people have been killed and almost 200 wounded in two days of violent unrest.
Raging violence in the heart of Bangkok claimed eight lives Saturday as the embattled prime minister vowed no turning back and the army threatened a crackdown on thousands of protesters.
Two days of street battles between soldiers and anti-government "Red Shirts" have left 24 people dead, all civilians, and 187 wounded. The military declared one area of Bangkok a "live fire zone" as troops struggled to regain control.
Scenes of urban warfare erupted on the southern and northern fringes of the Red Shirts' sprawling encampment in the heart of Bangkok, after the army moved in Thursday to seal off the area.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who last week shelved a plan to hold early elections because the protesters refused to disperse, warned the government "cannot turn back" in the two-month standoff.
Soldiers Saturday opened fire on demonstrators, some of them armed or hurling Molotov cocktails, as plumes of black smoke billowed from burning tyres.
More than 50 people have been killed and 1,600 wounded since the protests began on March 12, according to figures from the emergency services and the public health ministry.
"The current situation is almost full civil war," said a protest leader, Jatuporn Prompan. "I am not sure how this conflict will end."
The army warned it would move against the demonstrators' main rally site unless they dispersed, but gave no timetable for any such action.
"There is a plan to crack down on Ratchaprasong if the protest does not end," said army spokesman Sunsern Kaewkumnerd.
"But authorities will not set a deadline because without effective planning there will be more loss of life."
For two months thousands of protesters have turned a large area of Bangkok into a virtual state within a state, crippling a retail and hotel district and disrupting daily life for residents in the city of 12 million people.
The kingdom has been riven by political turmoil since the Reds' hero, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted in a bloodless coup in 2006. Its society is deeply divided between the urban elite and rural poor.
The rally site, where demonstrators sleep on mats on the ground and listen to speeches and music blasted from giant speakers, stretches for several square kilometres (miles). It is fortified with razor wire, bamboo stakes and piles of tyres.
The mostly poor and working class Reds say the government is elitist and undemocratic because it came to power in a 2008 parliamentary vote after a court ruling ousted elected allies of Thaksin.
Protest leaders have called for the intervention of revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 82. But the monarch, seen as a unifying force, has been hospitalised since September and has avoided commenting directly in public on the crisis.