If we have to clash, we will, says Thai army

By Ploy Ten Kate and Nopporn Wong-Anan

BANGKOK (BestGrowthStock) – Thailand’s military vowed on Sunday to “punish” anti-government protesters if they march on Bangkok’s central business district, raising fears of further violence after bloody clashes killed 24 people a week ago.

Red-shirted supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra

said on Saturday they may take their protest to the financial district, two blocks away from their main downtown protest base, on Tuesday, in defiance of an emergency decree.

“We won’t let them go anywhere further,” army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said.

Sansern stopped short of using the word “crackdown” but said protesters occupying the plush shopping and hotel district for a 16th day would be dealt with.

“Let’s say that we are left with no choice but to enforce the law,” Sansern told TNN television. “Those who do wrong will get their punishment. Taking back the area along with other measures are all included in enforcing the law. All this must be done.”

Sansern said uniformed and armed security forces would be sent to secure high-rises around the demonstration area to prevent the “third hand,” whom the government has blamed for the killings, from launching attacks. The red shirts said they would counter with their own people.

“Whatever will be will be. If we have to clash, we will … We need to enforce the law decisively. We can’t just think that ‘we don’t want casualties’, otherwise the country can’t move forward,” Sansern said. “Casualties would only happen after security forces have tried their best to avoid them, while those people are trying to take away our weapons and lives.”

Adding to concerns about further unrest, leaders of the anti-Thaksin “yellow shirt” movement — representing royalists, the business elite, aristocrats and urban middle class — gave the government a week to end the crisis, after which they would also hold a mass rally.

The yellow-shirted People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) staged a crippling eight-day blockade of Bangkok’s airports in December 2008, which left more than 230,000 tourists stranded, disrupted trade and led to credit ratings downgrades for Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.

“We give the government seven days to return peace to the country or we, every member of the PAD, will perform our duty under the constitution” to protect the throne, PAD leader Chamlong Srimuang told a news conference.

“Prepare yourselves for the biggest rally when we will eat and sleep on the street again.”

Adding to the mix, about 3,000 “multi-color” protesters, seeking a return to normalcy, gathered at a war memorial.

“We are the peace-loving people who have been severely affected by the red-shirts,” said Tul Sittisomwong, a yellow shirt and the leader of the multi-color network.

“…We are congregating here peacefully to tell the red shirts please stop using the violence, please stop hurting the people on the streets.”

UNEASY CALM

An uneasy calm has prevailed in the capital since Thailand’s worst violence in almost two decades which triggered a huge sell-off in the stock market after six weeks of gains.

A heated confrontation between troops and demonstrators, who are demanding that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolve parliament and step down, led to bloody clashes on April 10, the first outbreak of violence in the six-week protests.

The 2008 yellow-shirt siege ended when a pro-Thaksin ruling party was dissolved for electoral fraud, paving the way for Abhisit’s rise to power after a parliamentary vote the red shirts say was influenced heavily by the military in a “silent coup.”

Abhisit rebuffs claims his government is illegitimate and has refused to step down. He failed to deliver his regular televised address on Sunday for a second week and has been uncharacteristically reclusive since last week’s clashes.

Several thousand red shirts rallied on Sunday at the Rachaprasong intersection, dubbed their “final battleground,” listening to speeches. More arrived as night fell.

The seemingly intractable five-year crisis has fueled speculation that, with the government and security forces in disarray and concerns about clashes between rival demonstrators, hardliners within the military may decide to stage a coup to end the impasse, which analysts say would likely backfire.

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(Additional reporting by Eric Gaillard and Martin Petty; Editing by Nick Macfie)

If we have to clash, we will, says Thai army