Red shirt protest leaders today refused to negotiate with the authorities as the overnight death toll in Bangkok rose to 19.
Jatuporn Prompan of the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship, the main organisation behind the red shirt protests, said: “there is no more negotiation. Red shirts will never negotiate with murderers”.
Yesterday’s clashes were the first time the month-long protests in the Thai capital have turned seriously violent. The escalation began after the authorities ordered the arrest of 27 red shirt leaders, and vowed to clear the streets of Bangkok by nightfall.
Fighting ended only after the security forces withdrew late last night.
The red shirts are calling for the dissolution of parliament and a general election. They oppose the coalition led by prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Democrat Party, which came to power in a parliamentary vote in December 2008, after the Thai Constitutional Court outlawed the then ruling party, which had links to exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The names of 15 of those killed yesterday were released this morning. Four of the names were titled “private” or “sergeant”. A Japanese cameraman working for Reuters was also included in the list.
Streets in the areas hit by fighting are littered with riot shields and pools of blood. Hospitals are appealing for blood donations, with more than 800 people hospitalised. The security operation chief, Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd, said that at least 230 solders had been hurt.
Today the government-owned NBT channel is showing repeated footage of firearms use, allegedly (but not conclusively) by protesters. The channel is running a constant news ticker providing “state of emergency hotline” numbers.
A government spokesman said it was implementing a process to investigate and disclose exactly what happened yesterday. He said the authorities had been supplied evidence of the use of bombs and a machine gun by rioters. In remarks that suggested that some of the actions of security forces may also have been improper he reminded soldiers that they must only use weapons according to the the rules of engagement, and called for officers to “retrieve” any weapons belonging to them.
The United States government said it regretted the violence and called for restraint and negotiation. State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said that “violence is not an acceptable means of resolving political differences”.
Popular tourist areas close to the incident sites, such as the Khao San Road backpacker area, are being abandoned by foreigners on the eve of the song kran water festival, the most enthusiastically celebrated event in the Thai calendar. Song kran was also marked by anti-government violence year. Two protesters were killed.
Sympathetic demonstrations were staged in the north and north east of Thailand, where support for the red shirts and the fugitive Thaksin is strongest. Government buildings in Chiang Mai, Thaksin’s hometown, and Udon Thani in rural Isaan, were occupied by protesters on Saturday evening.
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