Thai army to launch final assault on protest camps
Women and children were told to leave the Red Shirt encampments in central Bangkok yesterday as Thailand's government prepared a final assault on the protesters.
Red Cross workers were told they would be given safe passage through a "live firing zone" until mid-afternoon today to remove the vulnerable from the 3,000-strong crowd.
Two people were killed yesterday as army snipers targeted activists behind burning tyres and spiked bamboo barricades. At least 31 people have been killed and hundreds wounded in three days of urban warfare in the Thai capital.
The army is thought to have resisted the government's demand for an immediate full-scale assault on the opposition. Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd, an army spokesman, indicated that troops would move on the barricades after tightening the cordon around the camp.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has struggled to quash mass protests by the Red Shirts, who are loyal to Thaksin Shinawatra, the ex-premier who was ousted in a coup in 2006.
"There is no turning back in our efforts to maintain a legal state," he said. "Losses will have to be endured. It is the only way to righteousness."
The government also declared today and tomorrow as public holidays, although banks and the stock market said they would continue trading.
Government officials ruled out calls from the Red Shirts for UN mediation, saying outside groups should not interfere.
Nattawut Saikai, a Red Shirt leader, told protesters they were free to go if they wished and called for fresh talks with Mr Abhisit's aides.
"We call on the government to cease fire and pull out troops. We are ready to enter a negotiation process immediately," he said. "We have no other condition. We do not want any more losses."
Most of the Red Shirts vowed to stay no matter what.
"We can't step back now," said Chotika Chongweerakorn (34).
"We will not be pushed around by this corrupt government. We haven't come this far to leave now."
Thirvadh Upaphongs (59) has camped out under an awning for the full nine weeks of the protest and has no inclination to throw in the towel.
"Perhaps the army will try to storm the place," he said. "If they do I'm not sure who will win. But the world must hear the truth about this government. I'm not afraid to die because I'm older."
Red Shirt leaders have called on Thai King Bhumibol to intervene. Protester Jatuporn Prompan said: "His Majesty is our only hope." (© Daily Telegraph, London)