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Tensions mount in Thailand
Heavy security as authorities shut opposition TV station again after clashes with red shirts.
Last Modified: 10 Apr 2010 02:33 GMT
Protesters, police and soldiers were injured in
clashes outside the TV station [Reuters]

Tensions are mounting in Thailand following clashes between anti government protesters and security forces.

Government forces maintained a heavy presence in the capital Bangkok on Saturday, and the authorities took an opposition television channel off the air a day after the protesters, known as "red shirts", stormed the station and forced the authorities to reverse an earlier decision to ban it.

Sansern Kaewkamnerd, an army spokesman, said security forces had returned to the station late on Friday after Abhisit Vejjajiva, the prime minister, ordered that the People Channel be blocked again.

"We retreated today because we did not want any loss of life or to hurt anyone," Sansern said shortly before midnight on Friday. "But the station is inciting violence and spreading false information and rumours to the detriment of the country."

Earlier on Friday, security forces had fired tear gas and water cannon in an attempt to keep the red shirts out of the building, 60km north of Bangkok, but after thousands of protesters forced their way through a security cordon and entered the compound, police relented and agreed to restore the channel to air.

The channel had been taken over by the authorities on Thursday, with officials saying that it was inciting violence.

"We want our TV back. You cannot shut our eyes and ears," Jatuporn Prompan, a red shirt leader, said after leading about 12,000 protesters in columns of motorcycles and pickup trucks from their two main encampments in Bangkok.  

At least 14 protesters, three police officers and a soldier were wounded in Friday's clashes, the first such confrontation since thousands of red shirts descended on the city a month ago.

Security force sympathy

in depth

  Q&A: Thaksin and the red shirts
  Thailand: Warring colours
  Profile: Thaksin Shinawatra
  Video: 'Red Shirts' swarm Bangkok

Most soldiers and police had pulled back from the site after failing to stop the red shirts, who want the government dissolved and early elections called. Some security personnel were seen throwing down their shields and riot gear and shaking hands with the protesters.

"There has been suspicion for sometime that should confrontation develop - as we have seen today - that there would be a large proportion of the military that may well side with the red shirts," Al Jazeera's Wayne Hay, reporting from outside the TV station, said.

"The military and police personnel that are present in Bangkok do not actually come from Bangkok. They also come from other parts of Thailand - the northeast, for example, which is where a lot of the red shirts' support comes from.

"So it all is almost inevitable that there will be some sympathy from within those security forces with the red shirts; after all Thailand is a deeply divided country politically."

The Thaicom Pcl satellite station, which relays the People's Channel signal via satellite, was founded by Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted former prime minister that many of the red shirts support, but he no longer owns it.

Crackdown feared

The clashes fuelled speculation that authorities were planning to crack down on the red shirts camped in Bangkok's historic heart and its main commercial district.

A large security presence remains in Bangkok as the red shirts promise bigger protests [AFP]

"Journalists have been asked to leave the main area where they have been covering this protest from," Al Jazeera's Aela Callan, reporting from Bangkok, said.

"Several of the shopping malls that ventured to open their doors today have asked staff to leave because of an impending military crackdown.

"We've heard these rumours before and protesters have been asked [by their leaders] to stand firm; not to go anywhere.

"The country will be closely observing how [the prime minister] handles this situation, considering that he is facing mounting critics and is starting to look very weak in the eyes of the Thai public if he does not put a stop to the demonstrations," Callan said.

"But the government does not want to be seen as firing the first shot."

Abhisit said on Thursday that arrest warrants have been issued for some protest leaders.

However, he also stated he would not order a crackdown, leading to criticism from some sides that he was showing weakness in handling the protests which have now lasted for almost four weeks.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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