BANGKOK, Thailand – Anti-government protesters said today they would not negotiate an end to violence in the Thai capital after savage clashes between activists and soldiers that killed at least 18 people and injured hundreds.
Thousands of “Red Shirt” protesters swarmed back into an area that had briefly been taken by government forces Saturday night. The streets were littered with bullet casings, rocks and pools of blood as protesters showed off a pile of weapons captured from the troops, including rifles and heavy caliber machine-gun rounds.
“There is no more negotiation. Red Shirts will never negotiate with murderers,” a key protest leader, Jatuporn Prompan, announced from a makeshift stage. “Although the road is rough and full of obstacles, it’s our duty to honor the dead by bringing democracy to this country.”
Hopes had been expressed that the two sides would come to the negotiating table after the worst violence in Bangkok since four dozen people were killed in 1992 in an antimilitary protest.
Late Saturday, army troops pulled back and asked protesters to do the same, resulting in an unofficial truce.
Five soldiers and 13 civilians, including a Japanese cameraman for the Thomson Reuters news agency, were killed, according to the government’s Erawan emergency center.
Editorials in Bangkok newspapers today called for urgent talks between the government and so-called “Red Shirts” to end the violence, noting that some protest leaders were ready for negotiations.
The violence erupted after security forces tried to push out demonstrators who have camped in parts of the capital for a month and staged protests demanding that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolve Parliament and call elections.
The demonstrations are part of a long-running battle between the mostly poor and rural supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and the ruling elite they say orchestrated the 2006 military coup that removed him from power amid corruption allegations.
The protesters, called Red Shirts for their garb, see the Oxford-educated Abhisit as a symbol of an elite impervious to the plight of Thailand’s poor and claim he took office illegitimately in December 2008 after the military pressured Parliament to vote for him.
Saturday’s violence and failure to dislodge the protesters are likely to make it harder to end the political deadlock. Previously, both sides had exercised considerable restraint.
Abhisit went on national television shortly before midnight to pay condolences to the families of victims and indirectly assert that he would not bow to the protesters’ demands.
“The government and I are still responsible for easing the situation and trying to bring peace and order to the country,” Abhisit said.
The army had vowed to clear the protesters out of one of their two bases in Bangkok by nightfall, but the push instead set off street fighting. At least 825 people were injured, according to the Erawan emergency center.
Most of the fighting took place around Democracy Monument, but spread to the Khao San Road area, a favorite of foreign backpackers.