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Thailand PM: 'no retreat' against protesters

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 15 May 2010

Thailand's prime minister says the military will "push ahead" with action against protesters as Channel 4 News correspondent Nick Paton Walsh says the army are preparing to move in on the protesters.

Thai protests (Credit: Reuters)

Prime Minster Abhisit Vejjajiva said taking military action against the Red-shirt protesters was the "only way" to end street battles which have destabilised the country's political process for six weeks.  

In a televised address, he said: "The government has to go forward. We cannot retreat. What we are doing is for the benefit of the country.

"We cannot leave the country in the hands of armed groups."

The protesters, who support the ousted former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra had skirmished with the army to prevent them sealing off the streets and breaking up the encampment.

22 people have been killed during the three days of street battles in the commercial district of Bangkok, during Thailand's worst political crisis in 18 years. A further 161 people have been injured.

Soldiers fired live rounds at demonstrators who fought back with petrol bombs, rocks and crude homemade rockets in two major areas of the city.

The British Embassy in the city said it expected "intense violence".

"We expect shooting and intense violence in Ratchaprarop, Din Daeng area and other violent areas," the embassy said in a statement, referring to areas in Bangkok where troops and protesters have clashed.

More Channel 4 News analysis of the Thai crisis
Bangkok: fatal clashes after general's shooting
- Interactive map of the protests

"I cannot say how many troops are deployed because of security concerns, but there will be reinforcements to help troops seal the area and step up pressure on protesters," he said.

Thai military spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said extra troops were being deployed to help disperse the protesters' camp.

Eyewitness: Nick Paton Walsh in Bangkok
The real change we have seen here is that while four days ago it was a calm standoff between placid protesters and disinterested police, it has now degenerated into open street battles between the protest hardcore and the army.

If there is still talking to be done, its not happening at street level. I have seen protestors burn tyres on the highway, pelted with what looked like rubber bullets by an army sandwiched between two protest lines.

Throughout the day there have been blasts echoing across the city. The army have declared a "live fire zone" on the road immediately north of the protest, which seems to mean they will shoot if you are there. And to add to the uncertainty the protestors love their fireworks. It is genuine chaos. It is not clear how this will end.

There are rumours. That just adds to the confusion to be honest, but one thing becomes clearer each hour: that Thailand's government can't allow anarchy to reign in Bangkok - no matter who started this violence - for much longer before their legitimacy and functionality comes into question.

Thousands of protesters, including children and women, remain barricaded within the 1.2 square-mile encampment where thousands refuse to leave.

"We'll keep on fighting," said Kwanchai Praipana, a leader of the red-shirted protesters.

The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon had expressed his concern over "the 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," a spokesman said in a statement.

The Foreign Office estimates there are currently some 50,000 British nationals resident in Thailand and around 800,000 visiting the country each year.

Violence in Bangkok in a larger map.

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