Bangkok chaos grows as angry mobs defy deadline
Published 18/05/2010 | 05:00
Thailand's anti-government protesters brought anarchy to a swathe of Bangkok last night in defiance of a government deadline to disband mass demonstrations at the heart of the capital.
Mobs set fire to office towers and expensive blocks of flats across a three-mile zone of chaos.
Army reinforcements have failed to deter the spread of the Red Shirt movement, loyal to the exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
An afternoon deadline for the clearance of Ratchaprasong, the main protest site, passed with a 5,000-strong crowd defying a warning that it was "no longer safe".
The deadline, set by Abhisit Vejjajiva, Thailand's Eton-educated prime minister, was dropped after it encountered opposition from the country's military high command.
Gen Anupong Paochinda, the chief of the general staff, has resisted pressure to crush the demonstrations even though troops have used deadly force to contain protesters, with 35 of them killed over the weekend.
The army's presence in the city was reinforced, with the number of troops deployed rising to 35,000. Soldiers in flak jackets mounted patrols three miles from the live fire zone.
Talks on a ceasefire that would defuse the stand-off reopened last night.
Korbsak Sabhavasu, the government's negotiator, said that Nattawut Saikuar, a Red Shirt leader, offered to pull back followers from new positions. In return, the government was ready to stop firing on the crowds.
Diplomats said that the government's failure to clear the area was stoking up even greater problems.
"We expect the demonstrations to be dispersed within two to three days. The Thais say that no country can tolerate a challenge in their equivalent of Knightsbridge," said one European diplomat.
"But the problem is that this is no longer about the Red Shirts. It's gone on so long that the poor of Bangkok are joining in and that means these divisions will need to be addressed by political change." (© Daily Telegraph, London)