At least 16 people have been killed and more than 100 injured after clashes erupted in the Thai capital as security forces attempted to seal off an anti-government protest camp.
Explosions and gunfire were heard in Bangkok's business district on Friday as the so-called red shirts battled with troops using tear gas and rubber bullets.
The army said it was not planning to crack down on the main protest site in the central Rajprasong business district, but was attempting to seal off the camp, cut the protesters' supplies and limit the size of the crowd inside.
"We will allow protesters to leave the area today," Sansern Kaewkamnerd, an army spokesman, said.
Al Jazeera's Aela Callan, reporting from Bangkok, said that the violence appeared to be intensifying around the protest camp.
"As night has fallen, we have seen some more intense firing taking place," she said. "We are still hearing a lot of gunfire coming from the area. It's very hard to say whether the gunfire is coming from the red shirts side as well as the soldiers."
Callan said that the clashes had spread to just outside the demonstration area as protestors headed to the area. "Protestors have been able to come into the site and their numbers have swelled slightly from earlier," she said. "The red shirts are showing no sign of leaving the area, despite the gun battles that have been going on."
Sean Boonpracong, a red shirt spokesman, told Al Jazeera that the two sides were unevenly matched and called on the army to end its operations against the protest camp.
"We want the army to cease fire," he said. "We really seriously want peace. We are really concerned at what is taking place."
Thaksin Shinawatra, the exiled former prime minister who is closely linked to the red shirts, accused the Thai government of a "grave infringement of human rights".
The army had moved on a red shirts at a checkpoint set up outside the main camp on Friday after a series of violent clashes left at least one person dead and nine injured overnight.
Military vehicles and a bus were reportedly set on fire as the red shirts attempted to halt the troops.
The protesters had gathered outside the Suan Lum night market to stop soldiers from advancing towards the main site.
Electricity has been cut off to that part of the capital in an apparent attempt to force the protesters out and sections of the city's elevated rail system were closed, including at Sukhumvit Road, a key tourist area.
"Bangkok is under a state of emergency," Al Jazeera's Wayne Hay, reporting from the protest site, said.
"So things are stepping up and the government is trying to increase pressure on the red shirts.
"There is still a hardcore of protest leaders there who are staying put."
The military has said that snipers could be deployed to the area and armoured vehicles may also be used around the site to prevent more people joining the protesters.
Renegade general killed
Clashes erupted late on Thursday after a suspended army general allied with the red shirt movement was left in a coma after being shot in the head.
Witnesses said the shooting was apparently carried out by a sniper, but it was not clear exactly who was behind the attack.
|An anti-government 'red shirt' supporter uses a sling shot against army soldiers [Reuters]
Panitan Wattanaygorn, the acting Thai government spokesman, told Al Jazeera that soldiers were not involved.
"Our operation is to secure the outer areas of the demonstrations. We will investigate as the red shirts have problems with their own leaders. Our officer was killed in a similar way in the last week," Panitan said.
But Phongthep Thepkanjana, a red shirt ally and former minister of justice, told Al Jazeera: "I don't think anybody can accept that because there was information that the government has snipers deployed close to the demonstration site. He was shot from a long distance."
The former army general was speaking to a group of journalists as he was shot inside the barricades.
"He is one of the more hardline of the red shirt group and had been criticised for being too radical," Al Jazeera's Callan said.
"It is hard to say what exact effect this will have on the protesters but it will certainly bring down morale as he is one of their fighters, but he is not one of the rank and file, one of the core leadership group. He is not making decisions so it is more a symbolic loss.
Street rallies have been held since March 12 in an attempt to bring a disolution of parliament and fresh elections.
The red shirts have called the government illegitimate as it came to power in a 2008 parliamentary vote.
This followed a controversial court ruling that ousted elected allies of Thaksin, who was himself unseated in a 2006 coup and remains closely linked to the red shirts.
Abhisit on Thursday held up a plan to hold early elections in November as deomonstrators refused to clear from the city centre.
The red shirts have said that they will not leave until Suthep Thaungsuban, the deputy prime minister, is charged for his alleged role in a deadly crackdown on protesters on April 10.
Demonstrations have often brought parts of central Bangkok to a standstill for long-periods and have included clashes with police that have about 30 people dead and more than 1,000 injured.
The red shirts initially called for immediate elections but agreed to a reconciliation deal this month in which Abhisit offered to dissolve parliament in the second half of September and hold polls on November 14.