Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Thai government reclaims control

Thai police escort Red Shirt leader Nattawut Saikua to a station (AP)

Fears are growing that the tentative quiet restored to Thailand's capital after a bloody crackdown on protests may just be a respite from violence and political polarisation that could continue for years.

As soldiers mop up pockets of resistance across Bangkok, the Thai government declared it had mostly quelled 10 weeks of violent protests in the city's main commercial district which left 15 people dead and nearly 100 injured.

Troops roamed the city and exchanged gunfire with scattered Red Shirt protesters, who fought near the city's Victory Monument and torched a bank, bringing the number of buildings set aflame to 40 after the military push sent the protesters retreating from their demonstration site.

The protesters, demanding elections, had fortified themselves behind tire-and-bamboo-spike barricades, and leaders of the anti-government Red Shirt movement vowed a return as they were taken into custody.

Kevin Hewison, a Thailand expert at the University of North Carolina, said: "I think this is a new beginning for the Red Shirts. It will be a darker and grimmer time of struggle and less-focused activities. By no stretch of the imagination is the movement finished."

With some torched buildings still smouldering, Thailand's finance ministry estimated the economic damage to the country at 50 billion baht (£1.06 billion) and continued security concerns led officials to extend a night-time curfew in Bangkok and 23 other provinces for three more days.

Even so, army spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd said the government was in charge, adding: "Overall, we have the situation under control."

With military checkpoints closing, city workers removed debris and collected piles of garbage left in the streets and residents in protest areas were able to leave home to shop as electricity was restored in many areas. But many of those who ventured into the streets were still deeply shaken by the violence.

By late on Thursday, authorities had taken most of the senior Red Shirt leaders into custody. Three surrendered after five others gave themselves up the previous day and were flown to a military camp south of Bangkok for interrogation.

The Red Shirts had demanded the ousting of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's government and new elections. The protesters, many of them poor farmers or members of the urban underclass, say Abhisit came to power illegitimately and is oblivious to their plight.

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