Warning for tourists as 21 killed in Bangkok clashes
Published 12/04/2010 | 05:00
Tourists visiting Thailand were warned last night to exercise extreme caution after the worst political violence in nearly two decades left 21 dead and 874 injured.
Troops were withdrawn yesterday and the 'red shirts' flooded back to the area of Bangkok that the soldiers had sought to clear with tear gas and repeated baton charges on Saturday night.
The violence spilt over into the Khao San Road, an area of the city which is favoured by backpackers. But yesterday many milled among the red shirts, posing for pictures by abandoned army vehicles.
Thousands of mainly rural poor red shirts -- so-called because of their garb -- have rallied in the capital for a month demanding that Abhisit Vejjajiva, the prime minister, quit on the grounds he is illegitimate as he took office after two governments formed by supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted former prime minister, were ejected by the courts.
The Oxford-educated Mr Abhisit went on television to express his regret over the deaths of four soldiers and 17 civilians -- including a Japanese cameraman working for Reuters -- but showed no sign of bowing to protesters' demands that he step down.
There were fears that the warnings to foreign nationals could harm the vital tourist industry, already hobbled by the shutdown of the main airport 16 months ago.
Apichart Sankary, from the Federation of Thai Tourism Associations, said that if street protests continue a million fewer tourists could visit the country this year.
Yesterday both the government and protesters mourned their dead after a night of savage street fighting.
At least 874 others were injured when security forces tried to crack down on Saturday on demonstrators who have been staging a month of disruptive protests in the Thai capital, seeking to have Mr Abhisit dissolve parliament and call new elections.
Bullet casings, pools of blood and shattered army vehicles littered the streets near a main tourist area where soldiers had pitched night-time battles with the protesters.
The fighting halted after the army pulled back its troops and initiated an informal truce. However, there was no sign that either side was willing to negotiate the issues underlying the protests.
Jatuporn Prompan, a leader of the red-shirt protest movement -- which contends the current government is illegitimate because it does not reflect the results of the last elections -- said Mr Abhisit's hands were "bloodied" by the clashes.
"Red shirts will never negotiate with murderers," Mr Jatuporn announced from a makeshift stage. "Although the road is rough and full of obstacles, it's our duty to honour the dead by bringing democracy to this country."
The government, meanwhile, focused on the immediate issue of public safety.
Government spokesman Panithan Wattanayagorn defended the soldiers' performance and accused the demonstrators of using heavy weapons against them. (© Daily Telegraph, London)