BANGKOK, Thailand – Leaders of demonstrations that plunged the Thai capital into chaos said today that they were calling off their protests after combat troops ringed their last stronghold.
About 2,000 die-hard protesters began to abandon their encampment around the seat of government following two days of rioting that left two dead and more than 120 injured in clashes between troops and demonstrators across Bangkok.
“We have decided to call off the rally today because many brothers and sisters have been hurt and killed. We don’t want everybody to suffer the same. And we will not allow more deaths,” said key protest leader Jatuporn Phromphan.
He said the protesters, who are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, “can come back and fight again. Democracy will not end today.”
Jatuporn said the leaders were ready to give themselves up to authorities, though there were no reports of arrest warrants issued for them.
Earlier, army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd had said troops were ready to move against the protesters, who had been encamped around Government House since March 26, and Jatuporn had vowed that they would make their last stand there.
Sansern said that only 2,000 protesters remained around Government House – the demonstrations had swelled to 100,000 last week – but that troops still had to cordon off four potential flash points in the city.
Earlier, troops drove back rampaging protesters with warning shots from automatic weapons, and by nightfall Monday, clashes that had gripped several parts of the city, wounding 113 people, had ebbed. But as the demonstrators tried to make their way back to their base, deadly fighting erupted between them and residents.
Abhisit praised the efforts of security forces, saying they used “soft means” and “prevented as much damage as possible,” though ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra – the man most protesters consider their leader – accused the military of covering up the number of people killed in the day’s battles.
Abhisit said the news that two people had been killed and 12 wounded in a gunbattle between protesters and residents at Nang Lerng market was “a regrettable incident.” But he said that “with the cooperation of the public, I believe success (in restoring peace) is near.”
Monday’s fighting came as protesters moved back toward their base outside the prime minister’s offices at Government House, where they have been holding out since March 26. An estimated 5,000 protesters are gathered there.
Hundreds of protesters and residents faced off outside the market, Police Col. Rangsan Praditpon said, and hurled Molotov cocktails and shot at one another. It was not clear who fired first.
Several countries issued travel advisories Monday, and the U.S. Embassy urged Americans “to avoid the areas of demonstrations and to exercise caution anywhere in Bangkok.”