Tensions high after Bangkok attacks
Thai police demand red shirts dismantle barricades after grenade attacks kill one.
Last Modified: 23 Apr 2010 07:16 GMT
Riot police have demanded red shirts dismantle their barricades [Reuters]

Tensions were high in the Thai capital a day after at least one person was killed and 86 wounded in grenade attacks linked to a weeks-long anti-government protest.

Hundreds of riot police and so-called red shirt protesters faced off at a major intersection in Bangkok's financial district on Friday morning before the police pulled back without incident.


Bloodshed on Bangkok's streets again

The riot police had approached the red shirts' barricades in the Silom district on Friday and demanded the protesters dismantle the barriers, which are made up largely of tyres and sharpened bamboo poles.

But the protesters refused and poured fuel on the makeshift structures instead.

After the police pulled back, the red shirts retreated to a camp they have set up behind the barriers.

The riot police had warned they would return if the protestors did not dismantle the barricades.

Despite the warning, red shirt leaders were meeting to consider the demand but also threatened to set fire to the fuel-soaked barriers if there was a crackdown.

Al Jazeera's Aela Callan, reporting from Bangkok, said the situation is quite volatile.

"Thailand is extremely divided right now; we are seeing a huge well of anger among Bangkok residents who are upset this protest is going on in their city, but also among people who do support the government.

"The government is coming under increasing pressure, both politically from inside the coalition and also from general people on the streets to enforce a crackdown on these red shirt protesters.

"It is, however, very tough for the government to do this without extreme loss of life," she said.

Rally planned

Tensions could rise further as the group of so-called multi-coloured protesters – who have demanded the red shirts end their protests and leave the capital – plans a major rally on Friday.

in depth

  Q&A: Thaksin and the red shirts
  Profile: Thaksin Shinawatra
  Blog: Thailand's darkest day
  Deadly grenade attacks
  Red shirts rally rural support
  Protesters fight for a voice
  Violence flares in capital
  Red shirts stage blood protest
  Thailand: Warring colours
  101 East: Thailand's red shirts

Panitan Wattanayagorn, a spokesman for the Thai government, told Al Jazeera that the red shirts had been given until 10pm (15:00 GMT) on Friday to pull down their barricade.

"If they don't, we will prepare to push them to their original section, but we want negotiations first," he said.

Panitan would not say what security forces would do if the red shirts refused and could not say if violence would break out again.

"We do not want a confrontation and the soldiers can only use live ammunition to fire in the air and for self defence," he said.

The army had blamed the red shirts for Thursday's grenade attacks,even before all five explosions had taken place and Suthep Thaugsuban, the deputy prime minister, went on television to say that the grenades had been fired from an M79 grenade launcher from within the red shirts' protest area.

He had also said three people were killed in the violence but the Bangkok Emergency Medical Service confirmed on Friday that one person was killed and 86 injured.

Protest leaders denied they were to blame for the grenade attacks.

Sean Boonpracong, a spokesman for the group, told Al Jazeera that "the government was too quick to place the blame on last night's violence on us".

He added that the movement was "open to negotiations but with a third party, like the United Nations - someone we can trust – because as far was we are concerned, this government has lost all legitimacy and every promise they have made, they have not kept".

'Time running out'

The red shirts, many of whom support Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister ousted in a 2006 coup, have been occupying Bangkok's main upmarket shopping area in Rachaprasong for three weeks.

Thursday's violence comes nearly two weeks after clashes left 25 people dead [Reuters]

Any attempt to disperse them risks heavy casualties and the prospect of clashes spilling into high-end residential areas.

A failed attempt by security forces to flush protesters from a historic district in Bangkok on April 10 erupted into the worst political violence Thailand has seen in 18 years, leaving 25 dead and more than 800 wounded.

The red shirts later consolidated at the Rachaprasong area and have fortified their base.

Under growing pressure to restore order, the army warned the red shirts on Thursday that their "days are numbered" as soldiers would crack down soon.

"To take people in Bangkok hostage is not right," Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd, an army spokesman, said.

"Your time to leave the area is running out."

But Suthep, the deputy premier, said on Thursday night that there would be no crackdown because women and children were in the area.

The red shirts, formally known as the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, want the prime minister to step down, dissolve parliament and call new elections.

But Abhisit Vejjajiva has rejected claims that his government is illegitimate and has refused to step down.

The central bank said on Wednesday that the political crisis was affecting confidence, tourism, private consumption and investment, although exports, which are crucial to economic growth, have been little affected by the unrest.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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