Protesters Block Heart of Bangkok’s Shopping Area

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CrazyExpat
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BANGKOK — Antigovernment protesters who have camped out on the streets of Bangkok for the past three weeks raised the stakes in their mass demonstrations on Saturday, converging on the heart of Bangkok’s shopping district and vowing to remain until new elections are called.

The Red Shirt demonstrations had until Saturday mostly affected a neighborhood of government ministries and offices. By blockading the main commercial district, however, protest leaders have considerably ratcheted up the pressure on the government.

Tens of thousands of protesters, including many families with small children, took over a main intersection, blocking roads leading to upscale shopping malls and five-star hotels and demanding that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of Thailand take action soon.

“We will remain here until the government declares that Parliament is dissolved,” said Veera Musikapong, one of the leaders of the protesters, who are known as the Red Shirts.

The government, which until Saturday had tried to take a conciliatory tone, ordered the demonstrators out of the area.

The Thai Foreign Ministry said the government would follow a “multistep approach, from light to heavier measures,” in what appeared to be a turning point in its handling of the crisis, the latest chapter of four years of political turmoil.

On Tuesday the Thai cabinet extended the use of a law that allows the military to clear out protesters and make arrests. Mr. Abhisit said Saturday that protesters had exceeded the limits of their constitutional right to demonstrate and that the government would negotiate or use legal means to oust them.

Mr. Abhisit has offered to call new elections within nine months — about a year before his term ends — but protest leaders, who claim the government is illegitimate, rejected the concession. The Red Shirts, who have wide support in the populous north and northeast, would probably win elections if they were held now, analysts believe.

Protesters, many of whom support Thaksin Shinawatra, who was removed as prime minister in a 2006 military coup, say they are angry at what they perceive as the undue influence of the country’s bureaucracy, military and elite.

Mr. Thaksin, who is overseas and wanted by the Thai authorities for a corruption conviction, addressed the crowd by video link on Saturday. He urged the crowd to fight for equality.

The Red Shirt demonstrations had until Saturday mostly affected a neighborhood of government ministries and offices. By blockading the main commercial district, however, protest leaders have considerably ratcheted up the pressure on Mr. Abhisit’s government.

Despite the threats to remove them, protesters appeared to be in a jovial mood late Saturday. As they listened to speeches, many camped out on the sidewalk in front of display windows advertising luxury brands like Dior, Ferragamo and Tag Heuer.

Tourists who pushed through the throngs of red-shirted protesters said they were polite and helpful.

“I don’t feel threatened,” said Elizabeth York, a visitor from London whose 1-year-old was in a stroller. “They make way for the babies,” she said.

Others were less forgiving of the demonstrators. An 18-year-old Thai, the scion of a wealthy family, drove his Porsche into protesters’ motorcycles and was besieged by the crowd before the riot police intervened, The Associated Press reported.

A woman who said she had to walk several miles to work because of the demonstration gave this assessment of the protesters: “They are very poor and very stupid.”

Protesters Block Heart of Bangkok’s Shopping Zone - NYTimes.com

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The trip to the US Embassy was uneventful. The only thing we saw as we left the embassy was a caravan of cars and pickups loaded with red shirts waving red flags and shouting over PA systems driving on Wireless Road on the opposite side of the road from the embassy.

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I just got this from another website:

At 10:35pm I received the following from a friend via text message. He did not say his source, but here is what he said:

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FLASH: At least 5 dead, 300 wounded in Bangkok clashes with Red-Shirts.

Report: One foreign tourist was shot in the chest after saying to a soldier "Fuck you."

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THE NATION is reporting at least 8 dead, 486 wounded so far.

I can't get through to the BANGKOK POST to see what they're saying. I've tried several times, but it won't load right now.

In any case, no matter which media source has the latest accurate information, obviously there have been deaths and numerous injuries. It's a shame to see it come to this, but there it is.

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