Thai red shirt stand-off deepens

Anti-government protesters blockade troop train and fortify positions in capital.

    Red shirt protesters continue to hold a train carrying military equipment in the northeast [Reuters]

    That assurance however does not seem to have carried weight with the red shirts who have said they will continue to block the train's path for at least the next five days.

    Our correspondent said that according to some reports an estimated 10,000 soldiers were already on stand-by in the Thai capital.

    A previous attempt to force an end to the protests earlier this month led to bloody clashes on the streets of Bangkok in which 25 people died and hundreds were injured.

    Crackdown fears

    In video

    Red shirts begin bringing new supporters from rural northeast

    The latest confrontation comes amid mounting anticipation of an army crackdown against the red shirts after six straight weeks of protests.

    On Thursday thousands of red shirts began a march through Bangkok to the United Nations headquarters in the city.

    The protesters said the march was to call for international intervention to bring a peaceful end to the stand-off.

    A day earlier the Thai army had warned that it would use force to disperse anti government protesters occupying the city's main shopping district.

    Action would be taken "considering the safety and lives of the people, and only when there is reason to do so, including for self-defence and in extreme cases", the government's Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation said.

    The warning came after red-shirt leaders said they planned to dig in at their camp in Bangkok's Silom financial district and continue their protests "indefinitely".

    in depth

      Q&A: Thaksin and the red shirts
      Thailand: Warring colours
      Profile: Thaksin Shinawatra
      Blog: Thailand's darkest day
      Al Jazeera speaks to both sides of the conflict
      Protesters fight for a voice
      Violence flares in capital

    Red shirts stage blood protest


    Bloodshed clouds Thai new year

    Red shirt activists have been fortifying their bases in the city with home-made barricades, blocking entrances with barriers made from bamboo poles and car tyres draped with plastic sheeting.

    Piles of sharpened bamboo sticks and broken paving stones have also been stockpiled, triggering fears of new confrontations with security forces who are threatening to use tear gas and live rounds if necessary.

    The red shirts have been camped out on the streets of Bangkok since March 12, with the standoff causing widespread disruption, closing shopping malls, hotels and causing millions of dollars in losses for Thailand's vital tourism industry.

    On Wednesday night, skirmishes between opposing groups of protesters broke out in central Bangkok, with gangs of government supporters throwing bottles at red shirts camps.

    Red shirt protesters responded with bottles, rocks, and fireworks.

    Demands changed

    The red shirts consist mainly of poor rural workers and pro-democracy activists who opposed the military coup that ousted the then prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, in 2006.

    Fears are growing of a confrontation between the army and red shirts [Reuters]

    They want parliament dissolved immediately and new elections called, saying Abhisit's government is illegitimate because it came to power through a parliamentary vote after court rulings ousted two elected, pro-Thaksin administrations.

    The red shirts meanwhile are sticking to their demand for parliament to be dissolved immediately, according to local media.

    A report in The Nation newspaper on Thursday said red shirt leaders were insisting on an immediate dissolution of parliament and had rejected an appeal by a national economic council to wait until a budget bill was passed in July.

    Some leaders of the red shirts had previously suggested they might consider a three-month timeframe for Abhisit Vejjajiva, the prime minister, to dissolve parliament and call elections.

    With tensions mounting, the US government weighed into the crisis on Wednesday urging both sides to seek a peaceful resolution to the standoff.

    "We would continue to encourage both sides to work out their disagreements peacefully," Philip Crowley, a State Department spokesman, told reporters in Washington.

    "We don't believe that violence in any shape or form is a solution to this political challenge."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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