Thailand readies lockdown over Red Shirts, says will shoot ‘terrorists’ who defy

By Thanyarat Doksone, AP
Thursday, May 13, 2010

Thailand will use armored vehicles to seal protest

BANGKOK — Thailand’s government planned a massive lockdown Thursday on a posh Bangkok neighborhood occupied by thousands of protesters, and warned that troops will not hesitate to shoot armed “terrorists” who resist.

Armored personnel carriers and snipers will surround the so-called Red Shirt protesters who have barricaded themselves behind piles of tires and bamboo spears in the 1-square-mile (3-square-kilometer) area, said Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd, the spokesman of the agency charged with ending the protest.

The agency “has shifted its strategy toward complete blockade and interception,” he said.

Separately, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajvia said he has rescinded his offer to hold elections on Nov. 14 because the protesters have refused to end their sit-in.

With the lockdown looming, leaders of the Red Shirts were defiant, saying their supporters would never “surrender” and were not afraid to die.

The Red Shirts, many from the rural poor, believe Abhisit’s coalition government came to power illegitimately through manipulation of the courts and the backing of the powerful military, and they have occupied parts of the capital since March 12 to demand new elections.

Sansern said sharpshooters with live ammunition will take up vantage positions, public transportation will be suspended at 6 p.m. (1100 GMT) and work places have been asked to let their staff go home early. Water and electricity supplies to the area may be cut off.

The government told medical centers to have doctors, nurses and ambulances ready for contingencies. Businesses were told to let employees take the day off Friday. Many banks and shops in the area put up signs, telling customers they were closing early.

The steps signaled a sense of desperation in the government that has been ineffectual in dislodging the Red Shirts from the Rajprasong neighborhood, lined with malls, upscale apartments, two hospitals, parks and embassies, including the U.S. and British.

“During the closing-in operation today, it’s possible that terrorists in the area would move in and encounter the officers. Therefore, the authorities must execute measures according to international standards and rules of engagement. Live ammunition will be used,” Sansern said.

The warning raised the specter of a repeat of the clashes between protesters and security forces on April 10 in another part of Bangkok that killed 25 people and injured 800. Later violence related to the protests have caused four deaths and injured 600.

Sansern said troops will use rubber bullets first but will not hesitate to use live ammunition in self defense if attacked.

“In addition, another unit of … sharpshooters will be on the lookout and will shoot terrorists who carry weapons,” he said.

From behind their barricades, leaders of the Red Shirts were defiant.

“Our brothers and sisters are not afraid to die. If the troops move in, our people will surround them,” said one, Jatuporn Prompan.

“We will never surrender. Please have faith in the fight,” he said in a speech to supporters. “As soon as troops move in, the Red Shirts in the provinces and Bangkok will rise together.”

The U.S. and British embassies announced they would close all services to the public on Friday. “Please do not come to the Visa Application Centre until further notice,” the British Embassy said on its website.

The U.S. Embassy will operate with limited staff Friday, said spokeswoman Cynthia Brown. Personnel living in the area have been given the option to relocate to temporary housing.

The Red Shirts, who are largely drawn from the rural and urban poor, see Abhisit’s government as serving an elite insensitive to the plight of most Thais. The protesters include many supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist leader who was accused of corruption and abuse of power and ousted in a 2006 military coup.

Thaksin, a former telecommunications billionaire who fled overseas to avoid a corruption conviction, is widely believed to be helping to bankroll the protests. He claims to be a victim of political persecution.

After agreeing last week in principle to Abhisit’s offer of November polls, the protesters later said they would stay put until the deputy prime minister faces criminal charges for violence during the protests.

Associated Press writers Vijay Joshi and Jocelyn Gecker contributed to this report.

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