Thai protesters call off march, to stay in base 'indefinitely'

Thailand's "red shirt" protesters called off a march to Bangkok's business district on Tuesday after a stern warning from the army.

Thai protesters call off march, to stay in base 'indefinitely'

Thailand's "red shirt" protesters called off a march to Bangkok's business district on Tuesday after a stern warning from the army, but they said will stay in the capital's shopping district "indefinitely".

The supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra also said they had enlisted their own special forces to tighten security in the shopping district they have occupied for 18 days, raising tensions in a bloody six-week protest demanding new elections.

At least two luxury hotels in the shopping district announced they had closed for the rest of this week for safety reasons.

"We will stay here indefinitely," Nattawut Saikua, a protest leader, told reporters in the Rachaprasong district of high-end department stores and luxury hotels, adding they would only hold a rally at a second site in the business area if soldiers leave.

He called off the march following the army's deployment of hundreds of troops, many armed with M-16 assault rifles, and after comments on Tuesday by an army spokesman who said troops would be tougher and use their weapons if provoked.

Despite the tensions, Thai stock prices rallied after falling 8.23 percent since clashes between troops and demonstrators on April 10 that killed 25 people.

Big troop presence

While the protesters cancelled their march to the business district, hundreds remained at the entrance to it, where they had stockpiled sharpened bamboo poles.

Several thousand other red shirts were dug in at the shopping district, about 2 kms (1.2 miles) away.

"We can no longer use the soft to hard steps," army spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd told reporters. "If they try to break the line, we will start using tear gas, and if they do break the line, we need to use weapons to deal with them decisively."

He accused some protesters of being armed with petrol bombs, planks, grenades and dangerous acids.

Late on Monday, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva again rejected demands to call an election he would almost certainly lose, saying the red shirts must be brought under control.

Both sides want to be in power during a military reshuffle in September. If Thaksin's camp is governing at that time, analysts expect it would bring about major changes by ousting generals allied with Thailand's royalist establishment, a prospect that royalists fear could diminish the power of Thailand's monarchy.

Hotel occupancy is put at around 20 percent in a country heavily reliant on tourism for jobs.

"There isn't a guest left in our hotel now," said a receptionist at the Holiday Inn, one of the two luxury hotels that closed. "We are closing from (Tuesday) and plan to reopen on April 26 if the situation improves."

Reuters

Last Mod: 20 Nisan 2010, 15:19
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