Red-shirted supporters of exiled former Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra started a fourth day of protests on Tuesday, blocking Bangkok's hotel and shopping areas. Hundreds of riot police were dispatched to retain order.
AFP - Hundreds of riot police with truncheons and shields faced off with angry red-shirted Thai protesters in central Bangkok Tuesday as tensions escalated over their bid to topple the government.
Police blocked hoards of red-shirted supporters of fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra who paralysed the capital's main shopping and luxury hotel district for a fourth day, despite the threat of arrest.
Leaders of the Reds, who hail mostly from the country's rural north, vowed to keep up their protests until Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva calls snap elections, and were planning a march through banned areas in the capital.
"We are ready to fight and die here," senior Red Nattawut Saikuar said with a raised fist. "If Abhisit is ready, we are ready. We have no plan to retreat and return home empty-handed," he said.
"Those who are shaken by the situation can return home but all Red Shirts at home in Bangkok and suburbs please rush to Ratchaprasong," he said, referring to the area of Bangkok that is home to five-star hotels and major shopping malls.
Police declined to say how many officers were out on the streets but several hundred were seen at points around the capital's tourist hub.
Television pictures showed minor skirmishes between police and some of the protesters.
The Reds say the government is illegitimate because it came to power with army backing through a parliamentary vote in December 2008 after a court decision ousted Thaksin's allies from power.
The authorities will seek arrest warrants for 10 protest leaders Tuesday, said deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who is in charge of security.
"They would be arrested on stage," he told reporters.
Flag-waving, red-clad protesters travelling on foot, motorbikes and in cars swarmed downtown Bangkok, squaring off with riot police blocking their way down a key road through the capital.
The military has mounted a heavy security response involving 50,000 personnel at its height to try to contain the protests which drew as many as 100,000 people on the first day on March 14.
As many as 50,000 protesters massed late Monday in the tourist heartland, while a further 14,000 gathered at another base in the old city, according to police.
The government wants to avoid a repeat of last April's clashes with Red Shirts that left two people dead, six months after riot police took on the rival Yellow Shirts in bloody scenes outside parliament.
"We have specifically given instructions to the officers they cannot cause confrontation or use force excessively," said government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn.
But he said the protesters could be prosecuted if they do not allow traffic to flow through the key commercial area.
The Reds' gathering in the tourist hub has been banned under a strict security law that could land the protesters with a year in jail.
They were emboldened by a Bangkok court's dismissal of the government's request for an injunction to force the protesters out of the tourist district, where they have halted traffic and caused stores to close.
But both sides claimed a legal victory because the court also noted that the government already had the power to evict the Reds under its security law that allows authorities to set up checkpoints, impose curfews and limit movement.
Business chiefs have warned the protests could inflict heavy losses on tourism and other industries.
Thai society is split between the Reds, who accuse Abhisit's government of being elitist and army-backed, and the Yellow Shirts, supporters of the country's establishment who accuse Thaksin of gross corruption.
Thaksin, a billionaire former telecoms tycoon, lives abroad to avoid a jail term for graft at home.
Date created : 2010-04-06