Picture: April 13, 2009 Thai turmoil / Video : BBC / YouTube / News
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April 13, 2009 Thai turmoil
Protesters at the Din Daeng intersection threw petrol bombs, set fire to car tyres and commandeered buses (Wason Wanichakorn/AP)
Soldiers fired tear gas and automatic weapons to clear the Red Shirt protesters from the intersection near the Victory Monument in central Bangkok, injuring at least 70 people. Nineteen people were admitted to hospital, including two soldiers (Rungroj Yongrit/EPA)
A second round of clashes erupted at lunchtime at the Victory Monument. As soldiers advanced with water cannons, the demonstrators drove three buses at them. The soldiers then opened fire for several minutes
Today’s battles marked a further escalation in the tensions of recent days. The Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, declared a state of emergency yesterday after protesters forced the ASEAN Summit in Pattaya to be abandoned (David Longstreath/AP)
A protester punches the air in triumph near a burnt-out bus. In a televised address earlier today, Mr Abhisit accused the supporters of Mr Thaksin of stockpiling weapons and warned peaceful demonstrators to disperse before the Government took further action
A demonstrator throws a firebomb after the military attacked this morning. Soldiers unleashed hundreds of rounds of automatic weapons fire to clear the protesters (Vincent Yu/AP)
A Thai soldier is hit by a petrol bomb during today’s clashes (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images)
During his television address Mr Abhisit denied claims that protesters had been killed, saying that 70 people had been wounded, 23 of them soldiers
An injured protester is rushed to an ambulance during the battles near the Victory Monument (Barbara Walton/EPA)
From various sources:
An anti-government protester and supporter of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra pleads to soldiers not to use violence against them outside Government House Thailand Monday, April 13, 2009. Thousands of Thai troops, firing automatic weapons and tear gas, have forced rampaging anti-government protesters across Bangkok to retreat to their main encampment ringing the seat of government. The demonstrators said they were prepared for a “final stand.” (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
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By Greg Alhstrand and Shamim Adam
April 13 (Bloomberg) — Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva urged demonstrators seeking his removal to disperse after clashes left two dead and at least 97 people injured as soldiers battled to restore order to Bangkok’s streets.
Soldiers fired over the heads of protesters who had hijacked buses and burned tires to block key intersections in the nation’s capital today. The clashes underpin a rift between the rural poor and urban elite that has spawned four administrations in three years since former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a coup.
“We are in control of the situation, except for the Government House,” the protesters’ last stronghold, Abhisit said in interview from Bangkok broadcast by CNN today. “Our priority is restoring law and order. We respect the people rights to protest.”
About 10,000 demonstrators, including monks, women and children, remained gathered at Government House, the seat of government, late today. Troops earlier fired tear gas to clear one Bangkok intersection. A fire in a government building was extinguished, Abhisit said.
“Today is the government’s day, not by much, but they are able to provide law and order in areas of anarchy,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute for Strategic and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. “The army is very much with the government.”
Thaksin said he is ready to return to the Southeast Asian nation at the appropriate time, according to an interview from an undisclosed location broadcast live on CNN today. The protesters support Thaksin, in exile to avoid a two-year jail sentence for corruption.
“It’s democracy for a few,” Thaksin said. “We want to see democracy for all. I’m ready to go when the time’s right.”
Abhisit, 44, has said he’ll consider his political future once order is restored. Protesters say his four-month-old administration lacks legitimacy because he came to power after the courts dissolved the former ruling party for vote buying.
At Government House tonight, two red-shirted boys about 3 or 4 years old were play-fighting with pieces of cardboard almost as tall as themselves; one boy using his as a sword, the other using his as a shield. About 50 yards from the boys, soldiers who earlier accepted roses from sobbing women sat in formation, smoking or talking on mobile phones.
“Some activities such as arson by rioters may take place tonight,” Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said in a nationally televised address. “I will do my best to maintain security.”
Two men were shot dead in clashes with protesters tonight, Chatree Charoenchivakul, secretary general of the Medical Emergency Institute, said in an interview. Yuthakarn Soichearchol, 19, and Pom Polpanbua, 53, were residents of the area in which they were killed, he said.
Clashes turned violent before dawn as troops cleared the Din Daeng intersection, about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from Government House, where protesters have besieged Abhisit’s office since March 26. Troops sprayed automatic weapons fire above the crowd and demonstrators responded by hurling at least one gasoline bomb, the Associated Press reported.
Six demonstrators who came to the Government House protest site from different provinces said they were there because they heard the army was going to use force to remove the anti- government group.
“We want to protect democracy and protect the people,” said Rassarin Chinnachodteeranun, 26, a researcher on wireless sensor networks. “If they charge, we will fight with our bare hands. It’s OK if we get hurt.”
Rassarin, from Nakhonnayok province about 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Bangkok, said she and her companions, also from northern provinces, didn’t believe Thai media reports about the protests and came to see for themselves.
About 70 injuries occurred in the morning and the rest in the afternoon, Chatree Charoenchivakul, secretary general of the Medical Emergency Institute said an interview on Channel 9.
Soldiers also clashed with protesters, and gunshots were heard at Victory Monument, a major intersection in central Bangkok, Channel 5 television reported.
“We’ve avoided using force, but we need to use tougher actions to address the situation,” Army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd, said in interview with Thai PBS. The army is firing live ammunition into the air to scare protesters and shooting “fake bullets” used for training when firing into mobs.
“Longer term, the constitution needs to change to give more power to elected representatives,” said Kanin Boonsuwan, a constitutional law professor at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.
Thailand has endured 10 coups that have ousted governments since absolute monarchy was abolished in 1932. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 81, is head of state under Thailand’s constitution, while the prime minister and parliament govern. His rare comments on public events have ended past conflicts, notably in May 1992 when government troops killed and wounded dozens of pro-democracy protesters in Bangkok’s streets.
After the 2006 coup, the military rewrote the constitution to favor non-elected institutions and make it easier for judges to dissolve political parties. Thaksin’s supporters won a December 2007 election to restore democracy, only for the courts to remove two successive prime ministers. Abhisit took office at the end of last year after demonstrators who supported him shut down the country’s airports for eight days and a court dissolved the previous ruling party for vote-buying.
The nation’s stock market is closed until April 16 for the Thai New Year holiday, Songkran. The benchmark SET Index and the baht have fallen for five straight quarters. The economy may shrink as much as 3 percent this year, the government predicts.
Investors should “take profit” on Thailand’s stocks as anti-government protesters intensify their rallies, Credit Suisse Group advised in a report today. The SET gained 10 percent in the past month, buoyed by a global stock rally.
“A return to the dark days of the second half of 2008 is not inevitable but the risk of prolonged political tensions is high,” Credit Suisse analyst Dan Fineman wrote in the report.
Thailand’s BBB+ credit rating may be lowered as the government struggles to stop the violence, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services said. Moody’s Investors Service said it may reduce its rating.
“There is a significant chance of a ratings downgrade,” Kim Eng Tan, Singapore-based director of sovereign & international public finance ratings at S&P, said today.
The weekend protests forced the cancellation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit in the resort town of Pattaya. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono never made it out of a military airfield close to the summit site before flying back to Jakarta, Antara reported.
“Thailand is ungovernable right now because nobody has resolved the core problem, which is the great disparity between the class of aristocrats and the rest of the country,” Jakrapob Penkair, a protest leader, said yesterday. “If we don’t address this deep and painful question, the situation will be worse.”