WRAPUP 1-Thai army says will "punish" protesters

* Army warns protesters against occupying banking district

* PM Abhisit skips national address for a second week

* Rival “yellow shirts” movement to meet on Sunday

By Ploy Ten Kate and Martin Petty

BANGKOK, April 18 (BestGrowthStock) – Thailand’s military vowed on
Sunday to punish anti-government protesters if they marched on
Bangkok’s central business district, heightening fears of more
violence after bloody clashes left 24 people dead a week ago.

Red-shirted supporters of ousted premier Thaksin
Shinawatra
would face resistance if they protested or tried to set up
camp in the city’s banking district this week in defiance of an
emergency decree in place across the capital, the army said.

Army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd stopped short of using
the word “crackdown” but said protesters occupying a plush
shopping and hotel district for a 16th day would also be dealt
with. He did not elaborate and gave no timeframe.

“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,” he said.

A period of uneasy calm has prevailed in the capital over a
Thai new year holiday period in the wake of Thailand’s worst
violence in almost two decades, which triggered a huge selloff
in the stock market (.SETI: ) 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.

Adding to concerns about more unrest, leaders of the
anti-Thaksin “yellow shirts” movement — representing
royalists, the business elite, aristocrats and urban middle
class — planned to meet later on Sunday to discuss their
position on the crisis.

The “yellow shirts” staged a crippling eight-day blockade
of Bangkok’s airports in December 2008, which stranded more
than 230,000 tourists, disrupted trade flows and led to credit
ratings downgrades for Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.

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The 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.

ELITES TARGETTED

Several thousand protesters rallied on Sunday at the
Rachaprasong intersection, dubbed their “final battleground”,
listening to speeches and huddling in the shade as the burning
sun took its toll. More were arriving for a rally that
typically draws tens of thousands by evening.

The planned protest on Tuesday would target Bangkok Bank
(BBL.BK: ), Thailand’s biggest lender, which “red shirts” have
linked to the elites they say conspired to bring down elected
governments backed or led by the popular Thaksin, who was
ousted in a 2006 coup and fled into exile ahead of a graft
conviction.

Protesters have taken aim at Prem Tinsulanonda, a former
army chief, premier and honorary advisor to the bank, who
serves as the top aide to Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol
Adulyadej.

Faced with criticism over the military’s handling of the
protests, Abhisit appeared on television on Friday to announce
that responsibility for security had been handed to army chief
Anupong Paochinda, who retires in September and has been
reluctant to tackle the protests.

“I think him passing responsibility to the
commander-in-chief is his way of pushing him to actually do
something, since he will be responsible for what happens now,”
said Joshua Kurlantzick of the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace, a U.S. think tank.

“I’m not sure it’s Abhisit trying to evade responsibility.
He’s still going to have to face the consequences at the polls
at some point.”

The seemingly intractable five-year crisis has fuelled
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.

Stock Market Report

(Additional reporting by Eric Gaillard; Editing by Bill
Tarrant)

WRAPUP 1-Thai army says will “punish” protesters