WRAPUP 4-Thai "red shirts" vow to intensify campaign

* Protesters urge backers to confront forces in rural areas

* Abhisit says scaling back economic growth projections

* Army chief admits divisions in forces but says not
unusual
(Recasts, adds second blockade and red-shirt comment)

By Jason Szep

BANGKOK, April 25 (BestGrowthStock) – Anti-government protesters
encamped for weeks in central Bangkok promised more aggressive
measures after the government rejected their proposals to end
increasingly violent protests in return for early polls.

“Red-shirt” protest leaders called on their supporters in
the countryside to confront the army and police. Their backers
responded by blockading police convoys in at least two areas.

The stalemate rekindled fears of more unrest and a heavier
toll on Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy as more
retailers shut their doors and tourist numbers dwindle.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said he would soon scale
back Thailand’s annual economic growth forecast.

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For a graphic: http://link.reuters.com/rap67j

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About 500 km (310 miles) north of Bangkok, hundreds of “red
shirts” formed a roadblock in northeastern Udon Thani province
and stopped a convoy of 150 police from heading to the capital
to strengthen security operations, a local official told
Reuters.

They formed another roadblock in Pathum Thani, about 50 kms
(30 miles) north of Bangkok, preventing around 200 policemen
from entering the city.

Police reinforcements are being brought into the capital
to forcibly disperse thousands of protesters occupying some
central areas, said red shirt leader Jatuporn Prompang.

“We will try to block every spot we can in a bid to stop
killing. We don’t want to see anybody die,” he told Reuters.

The army’s failed attempt to eject red shirts from another
site in Bangkok on April 10 led to clashes that killed 25 and
wounded more than 800.

Coming after red shirts stopped a troop train in the north
last week, the blockade raises questions over whether Abhisit
can exert full control over rebellious parts of Thailand as the
deadly protests enter a seventh week.

SOLIDARITY WITH MILITARY

Abhisit, speaking on Sunday in a televised interview with
army chief Anupong Paochinda in a show of solidarity with the
military, flatly rejected a red shirt offer to call elections
in 30 days and hold a vote 60 days later.

“There must not be a precedent that allows intimidation to
bring about political change,” Abhisit said in his weekly
television broadcast on Sunday. “Thirty days is out of
question. I don’t think this problem can be solved within 30
days.”

Hotel occupancy in Bangkok has crumbled to 20 percent from
about 80 percent in February, squeezing an industry that
supports six percent of the economy.

Abhisit said he would soon scale back the government’s
projection of 4.5 percent annual economic growth this year.

The army has had to deal with a rogue military element that
supports the protesters and is allied with former premier
Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in 2006 coup and sentenced
to prison for corruption after fleeing the country.

The army chief sought to downplay signs of a split in the
armed forces, but he acknowledged for the first time some
retired and active officers had joined the protest movement.

“Some of those involved in the deadly attacks are still in
the military,” he said. “But on the division, any big
organisation could have that.”

Abhisit’s six-party coalition government is under intense
pressure from upper-class and royalist Thais to rebuff demands
from the mostly poor red shirts. He stuck to an earlier offer
to dissolve parliament and call elections in December, a year
early.

Bangkok, a sprawling city of 15 million people, has been on
edge after grenade blasts three days ago killed one person and
wounded 88 in the business district, an attack the government
blamed on the red-shirts, who deny they were responsible.

MORE ARMY THREATS

The army warned on Saturday it would forcibly disperse
thousands of red shirts in a fortified encampment stretching 3
square-km (1.9 miles) in Bangkok’s main shopping district, but
it wants to first separate militants from women and children.

The army has repeatedly threatened to crack down, saying
protesters cannot occupy a key commercial district
indefinitely.

Protest leaders are urging supporters to remove their
trademark red shirts to make it harder for troops to find them.
They threatened other aggressive measures, including laying
siege to Central World, the second-largest shopping complex in
Southeast Asia, next to the stage at their main protest site.

The shopping centre at the Rajaprasong intersection has
been closed since the protesters occupied the area on April 3.

Residents of the capital, weary of the red-shirt tactics,
have formed a “multi-coloured” protest group that has drawn
thousands to its rallies in the capital.

“This hardening of the battle lines between the two sides
does not bode well for Bangkok’s security situation and a risk
of another, and this time maybe even more violent, crackdown is
immediate,” risk consultancy IHS Global Insight said in a note.

The government is stepping up accusations the red shirts
want to overthrow the monarchy, which the protesters deny,
raising the stakes in a country whose 82-year-old king is
deeply revered but has appeared rarely in public since entering
hospital Sept. 19.

The red shirts say British-born and Oxford-educated Abhisit
came to power illegitimately in December 2008, heading a
coalition the military cobbled together after courts dissolved
a pro-Thaksin party that led the previous government.
(Additional reporting by Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat; Editing
by Bill Tarrant and Paul Tait)

WRAPUP 4-Thai "red shirts" vow to intensify campaign