- demonstrations - military - Red Shirts - Thailand
PM blames 'terrorists' for deadly weekend unrest
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Monday said that "terrorists" were behind anti-government "Red Shirt" protests over the weekend that left 21 people dead as protesters carried the bodies of fallen comrades through Bangkok's streets.
AFP - Thailand's prime minister Monday accused "terrorists" of inciting deadly weekend violence as defiant "Red Shirts" paraded the bodies of protesters and empty coffins through the tense streets.
The demonstrators said the time for negotiations was over and vowed to press on with their bid to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva following the bloodiest political unrest in Bangkok in 18 years.
"From the overall picture we clearly found that terrorists used pro-democracy protesters to incite the unrest, hoping for total change in our country," Abhisit said in a nationally televised address.
"We have to differentiate innocent people from terrorists," he said, adding that peaceful protesters' demands for democracy should be addressed in the political arena.
The Red Shirts, who hail from mainly poor and rural areas of Thailand, insist they will not end their campaign until the government calls fresh polls and Abhisit stands down and leaves the country.
"There will be no talks with the government. We will not talk with killers," said Reds leader Jatuporn Prompan. "What else is there to talk about?"
Seventeen civilians, including a Japanese cameraman, and four soldiers were killed Saturday after the army launched a crackdown on the supporters of fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, following weeks of mass demonstrations.
Pick-up trucks carrying two bodies of protesters and 14 empty caskets draped with Thai flags led a procession through central Bangkok. Thousands of protesters later massed outside Abhisit's house, guarded by hundreds of police.
"We want people in Bangkok to know what happened to the Red Shirts because the government and the army control the news," said Chakkricth Kadeeluck, a 34-year-old watch seller from Chonburi, east of Bangkok.
"The Red Shirts want the people to know the truth."
Abhisit offered last month to hold elections by the end of 2010 -- one year ahead of schedule -- to end the stand-off, but protest leaders rejected the proposal.
The government on Monday also played down local media reports that Abhisit might offer to bring forward the polls to October.
"There was no talk of elections in October yet," government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn told AFP.
Thousands of Reds, who accuse the current government of being elitist and army-backed, have refused to end a month of mass rallies that have dealt a heavy blow to the country's vital tourist sector.
Deepening fears about the impact of the crisis on the economy sent Thai stocks plunging more than five percent in early afternoon trade on Monday as Thailand's neighbours voiced their concern about the turmoil.
The Reds charge that the government is illegitimate because it came to power in 2008 after a court ousted allies of fugitive ex-premier and telecoms tycoon Thaksin from power.
Many are seeking the return of Thaksin, who was toppled in a bloodless coup in 2006, hailing his policies for the masses, such as cheap healthcare.
Shaken tourists have been seen packing up and leaving the capital after bloody clashes spread into the Khaosan Road backpacker district, where Thai flags, red roses and incense sticks were placed on pools of blood.
Saturday's violence erupted when troops tried to clear one of two sites in the centre of the city which have been occupied by the protesters for the past month.
As the clashes intensified gunshots echoed around the city and both sides accused the other of using live ammunition. Emergency services said two protesters were killed by gunshot wounds to the head.
The authorities said assault rifles and grenades were used by some people among the demonstrators.
One group of soldiers was taken hostage by the Reds but police later said they had been released. The bodies of four soldiers killed in the clashes were due to be returned to their families for private funerals after autopsies.
The family of the Japanese cameraman who was fatally shot in the chest while covering the clashes arrived Sunday in Bangkok, where his wife said she was "bewildered" at the tragic turn of events.
"He was the best husband and father. I am very sorry that he couldn't come home with that smile," she said in a statement.