Tourists warned against travelling to Thailand
TOURISTS have been warned by the Department of Foreign Affairs not to travel to Thailand after violent political protests erupted into running battles that resulted in the death of a soldier and left 18 people wounded yesterday.
People already there are being advised to "stay out of the trouble spots" but have not been urged to return home from the country experiencing its bloodiest civil violence in almost two decades.
A spokesman for the department said the advice has come because of "an escalation" in the turmoil -- and will remain "indefinitely" as they wait for the political situation on the ground to improve.
The decision was taken by the department "on foot of an updated threat assessment" received from the Irish Embassy in nearby Malaysia, and was "in line with advice being offered by other like-minded countries to their citizens".
Thai troops in the besieged Asian country have been clashing with hundreds of Red-Shirt protesters in Bangkok and its hinterland for months -- many of whom support ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra.
Shots were fired after opposition leaders instructed more than 2,000 followers to move to a nearby neighbouring province in a convoy of trucks and motorcycles.
By calling a rally elsewhere, the opposition hoped to test the government's resolve. A confrontation broke out when pro-government forces intercepted the convoy.
The trooper was shot in the head during a confused incident when uniformed men on motorbikes drove through the ranks of Red-Shirt protesters at the army and police lines.
Members of the security forces are split between the pro and anti-government camps, with Maj Gen Khattiya Sawasdipol, a renegade military leader, commanding the protesters' defences.
The Red Shirts currently occupy a swathe of the capital from the commercial district running south to the business district. The stand-off has hit Thailand hard, forcing major hotels and shops in central Bangkok to shut.
Thailand's pro-establishment Yellow Shirts have called for the imposition of martial law to end the mass anti-government protests -- warning they may take action themselves.
There is an increased security presence throughout the capital and there may be checkpoints and searches of vehicles and people.
"Irish citizens are strongly advised to avoid all protest sites, in particular those around the Ratchaprasong intersection, and to carry a photocopy of their passport at all times," the department spokesman said.
"To whatever extent possible, travellers to Bangkok should also avoid all government buildings and state institutions. Irish citizens should plan their movements carefully and follow local advice closely.
"The situation in Thailand remains volatile and unpredictable. There is a strong possibility of further political unrest and more street violence," he added.
However, the advice to avoid all non-essential travel to the country does not apply to passengers intending to transit Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport en route to other destinations outside Thailand.