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Dozens injured in crack down on Bangkok protests

Posted in Uncategorized by malaysiasms on April 13, 2009

Agence France-Presse

Thai soldiers block a road near Government house in Bangkok. At least 68 people were injured, two of them critically, after Thai troops dispersed protesters in the capital Bangkok, emergency services said.

Thai troops fired tear gas and shots in the air to disperse anti-government protesters in Bangkok, wounding 68 people amid a crackdown to enforce a state of emergency in the capital, officials said.

Protesters hurled molotov cocktails and stones after soldiers moved in to clear a key road junction in the capital which demonstrators calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva had blocked overnight.

Abhisit issued an emergency decree for Bangkok and surrounding areas on Sunday to curb mass protests against his government, a day after protesters forced the cancellation of a major Asian summit in Thailand.

“The soldiers have begun the operation to disperse the protesters at Din Daeng intersection,” army spokesman Colonel Sunsern Kaewkumnerd told AFP.

He confirmed that the troops had used tear gas and said that protesters had tried to crash a car into soldiers, although this could not be independently confirmed.

“We will start with soft measures and proceed to harder ones. We will avoid loss of life as instructed by the government.”

Authorities made no effort to clear the main body of thousands of protesters loyal to ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who were camped out at Abhisit’s offices in the capital in defiance of the state of emergency.

The so-called “Red-Shirts” have sparked the biggest crisis that Abhisit has faced since he came to power in December following a controversial court ruling that drove Thaksin’s allies out of power.

An AFP photographer at the intersection where Monday morning’s clashes happened said that soldiers fired dozens of rounds into the air after several hundred protesters hurled bottles, rocks and molotov cocktails at them.

The demonstrators retreated into side streets but regrouped and more of the Red Shirts were on their way. The protesters were angry and showed a shirt covered with blood which they said belonged to a injured colleague.

Protest leaders reacted angrily to the use of force.

“Abhisit, are you still a human being? This is a most inhuman act, to crack down on unarmed protesters,” leader Jatuporn Prompan told supporters at the main rally outside Government House, where the premier’s offices are located.

“Soldiers fired tear gas into the protesters and then fired M16 (assault rifles) into our protesters.”

Emergency services said at least 68 people were injured, two of them critically, during the crackdown. Two people suffered gunshot wounds but neither of them was in danger, a doctor said.

Medical officials denied reports on the protesters’ private radio station that five or six demonstrators had been killed, but the announcement appeared to be fuelling the Red Shirts’ anger.

It is the first time that the army has responded to the government’s orders since Abhisit declared the emergency at lunchtime on Monday and ordered tanks and soldiers onto the streets of Bangkok.

The army has generally shied away from confronting protesters since action against riots in 1992 left dozens dead, and police moves against anti-Thaksin demonstrators last October left two dead.

The state of emergency bans public gatherings of more than five people and empowers authorities to detain suspects for up to 30 days without charge.

Abhisit is under intense pressure to curb the unrest after the humiliating cancellation of Saturday’s regional Asian summit in the resort of Pattaya, when authorities were forced to evacuate foreign leaders by helicopter.

Demonstrators on Sunday fired in the air and attacked a car they thought was carrying Abhisit, tried to storm the interior ministry and police said they had also captured at least one armoured personnel carrier.

The unrest came after police arrested the leaader of the summit protests, former pop singer Arisman Pongreungrong at his Bangkok home on charges of inciting protesters to kidnap the prime minister and cause unrest.

Thaksin, who lives in exile to avoid a two-year jail term for corruption, stoked up the protesters in two separate phone-in speeches on Sunday night, saying: “You don’t have to be frightened of this state of emergency.”

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