| 12.9°C Dublin

Troops open fire on protest as Bangkok death toll rises to 16

Thai troops fired at protesters on Saturday in a third day of fighting on Bangkok's streets that has killed 16 people.

The army are struggling to isolate a sprawling encampment of demonstrators seeking to topple the government.

Troops shot a protester attempting to ignite a rubber tyre on a major road surrounded by office towers in the evacuated business district early today, as protesters gathered in alleys and torched vehicles, witnesses said.

That followed a long night of thundering grenade explosions and sporadic gunfire as the army battled to set up a perimeter around a 3.5 sq-km (1.2 sqm) protest site of defiant red-shirt demonstrators who refuse to leave.

"We'll keep on fighting," said Kwanchai Praipana, a leader of the red-shirt protesters, calling on the government to take responsibility for violence during the demonstrations.

He said supplies of food, water and fuel were starting to run low but that they had enough to last "days".

The crisis has paralysed parts of Bangkok, squeezed Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy and scared off tourists.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon expressed concern over "rapidly mounting tensions and violence".

"He strongly encourages them to urgently return to dialogue in order to de-escalate the situation and resolve matters peacefully," his spokesman said in a statement.

The Canadian government urged both sides to return to talks after a Bangkok-based Canadian journalist was shot three times, one of three journalists wounded in chaotic fighting that has spiralled rapidly into urban warfare.

Latest reports say troops have taken control of checkpoints on at least three roads surrounding the main protest site, checking identification cards in an attempt to stop protesters from joining thousands in the area, including women and children.

The government said it would restore order "in the next few days" as the city of 15 million people braced for a crackdown to end a six-week protest by thousands of "Red Shirts" packed into an area of high-end department stores, luxury hotels, embassies and expensive residential apartments.

Troops fired tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds at defiant protesters who fought back with petrol bombs, stones and home-made rockets. They set vehicles on fire and rolled burning tyres into checkpoints.

The army said the protesters were firing handguns and M-79 grenades. Army spokesmen Sansern Kaewkamnerd said there were an estimated 500 armed "terrorists" among the thousands of protesters in the city.

The Erawan Medical Centre in Bangkok said 16 people had been killed in the latest fighting.