WRAPUP 4-Thai troops struggle to contain Bangkok protests

* Troops want to stop protesters getting more arms

* 27 now dead in seven weeks of protests in Bangkok

* Top broker says investors may be underestimating risk
(Adds protesters invading hospital, adds quotes)

By Ambika Ahuja

BANGKOK, April 29 (BestGrowthStock) – Thai authorities said on
Thursday they would intensify efforts to contain
anti-government protests in Bangkok, a day after a soldier was
killed in the latest clash of a campaign to force early
elections.

The “red shirt” supporters of ousted former premier Thaksin
Shinawatra remained defiant in their makeshift encampment in
the capital after skirmishes with Thai troops on Wednesday on a
busy highway in Bangkok’s northern suburb wounded 19 people.

“We are ready for them to come get us. Let’s see how many
of us they have to kill to satisfy them,” said Saman Chantikul,
a 50-year-old fruit seller who was among thousands occupying
Bangkok’s upscale shopping district for nearly a month. “We are
not going anywhere until this government listens to us.”

Seven weeks of increasingly violent protests and their
economic toll on Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy are
piling more pressure on Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to end
the crisis that has killed 27 people and paralysed Bangkok.
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Army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd told Reuters troops at
checkpoints on roads leading into the area would stop people
bringing in weapons and might discourage more from going in.

But red shirt leader Weng Tojirakarn said he expected more
protesters to join the mostly rural and urban poor movement
seeking to throw the government out. “We believe victory is
near,” he said to loud cheers from thousands in their
encampment behind medieval-like barricades made of tyres,
bamboo poles and chunks of concrete.

About 100 protesters on Thursday entered Chulalongkorn
Hospital, which lies alongside their encampment. A witness said
they were roaming about the lobby looking for troops they
suspected were stationed inside.

With neither side showing any sign of compromise, analysts
expect the stalemate to go on with potential flashpoints ahead.

“The army appears to be applying pressure a little at a
time, and at the end, there may still be room for a political
compromise. But we will have to see who caves first,” said
Somjai Phagaphasvivat, a professor at Thammasat University.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban acknowledged to
reporters on Thursday it would be hard to forcibly eject the
red shirts because many women and children are among them.

UNREST HURTING ECONOMY

Thailand’s central bank on Thursday projected economic
growth this year of 4.3-5.8 percent, up from a January forecast
of 3.3-5.3 percent. But a squeeze on consumption, tourism and
investment from the protests shaved nearly a percentage point
off the forecast, the bank said. [ID:nSGE63S0DH]

Thai stocks (.SETI: ) ended up 0.5 percent, compared with
slight falls in neighbouring markets, and the baht (THB=: )
currency was firmer on the day.[ID:nSGE63S03E] But Kim Eng
Securities, Thailand’s top brokerage, said investors may be
underestimating the impact unrest is having on economic growth.

“With 60 percent of GDP growth hinging on consumption,
there is downside risk,” it said. While many expect Thailand’s
robust exports to insulate its economy, “we don’t expect
exports to lead the economic recovery,” the brokerage said in a
report.

The violence has had a devastating effect on Thailand’s
tourism industry, which accounts for 6 percent of the economy
and 15 percent of the workforce. Arrivals at Bangkok’s
Suvarnabhumi Airport have fallen by a third since violence
broke out.

Consumer sentiment has been declining as the unrest, now in
its seventh week, drags on. Economist say the political
uncertainty may discourage new investment. [ID:nSGE63604Y]

About 300 supporters from a rival protest group, the
“yellow shirts”, went to the heavily fortified army barracks
Abhisit is using as a command centre to demand he disperse the
red shirts.

“The red shirts have created a state within a state and
they are getting away with it with impunity,” said Suriyasai
Katasila, a spokesman for the group who closed down Bangkok’s
main airport for a week in late 2008 and helped bring down a
pro-Thaksin government. “The authorities must put an end to
this.”

Wednesday’s violence flared after 2,000 red shirts moved
out of the central shopping area in a “mobile rally”. Fighting
erupted on a crowded highway 40 km (25 miles) north of central
Bangkok when security forces barred their way. Troops fired
rubber bullets and live rounds, first in the air and then into
the charging protesters, Reuters witnesses said.

Suthep, the deputy prime minister, said any similar rally
would meet the same response.
“We are going to have to adjust our plans,” protest leader
Nattawut Saikua told Reuters. “Mobile rallies are going to be
dangerous, so we have to think carefully before going out
again.” Hopes of a deal to end the violence faded after
British-born, Oxford-educated Abhisit last weekend rejected a
red shirt proposal for an election in three months, saying he
would not negotiate in the face of threats.

The red shirts oppose what they say is the unelected
royalist elite that controls Thailand and broadly back Thaksin,
who was ousted in a coup in 2006 but before that built up a
following among the poor through rural development and welfare
policies.

The former telecoms tycoon was convicted in absentia on
corruption-related charges and lives abroad to avoid jail.

Stock Market Today

(Additional reporting by the Bangkok bureau; Writing by Bill
Tarrant; editing by Jason Szep)

WRAPUP 4-Thai troops struggle to contain Bangkok protests