Thai Protesters Ask EU to Help in Bloody Crisis

BANGKOK

THAILAND’S anti-government “Red Shirt” protesters called on Thursday for the European Union to send observers to Bangkok to prevent a crackdown as rival “Yellow Shirts” readied their own rally.

A day after clashes between the opposition demonstrators and troops left one soldier dead and 18 people injured, the Reds said they would go to the European Union delegation in Bangkok to ask the body to help in the crisis.

“The government used force to crack down on innocent protesters, and it’s likely there will be further violent crackdowns,” Red leader Jaran Ditsatapichai said on a stage at the movement’s main demonstration site.

The movement – which wants immediate elections – released a letter it planned to submit to EU ambassador David Lipman making an “urgent request” for the body to send monitors to Bangkok to prevent another crackdown.

Thailand is reeling from its worst political violence in almost two decades in the capital, where 27 people have died and almost 1,000 have been injured this month in a series of bloody confrontations.

Many of the Reds come from Thailand’s rural poor and urban working classes and seek the return of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and now lives overseas to avoid a jail term for corruption.

The country is largely split between the Reds, and the pro-government Yellow Shirts who staged their own street protests that heralded a 2006 coup ousting their enemy Thaksin.

Thousands of Yellows planned to gather on Thursday in front of an army base where Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his cabinet have been working since demonstrations began last month.

The Yellows’ rally, the first by the movement since the rival Reds began their own mass protests in mid-March, comes amid mounting fears of factional violence between the two camps.

“We will demand that the government spell out a clear plan to end illegal rallies and terrorism, and we will call on the army to use its power to end anarchy,” Suriyasai Katasila, a Yellow Shirt spokesman, told Thai television.

The group said it would take similar action Thursday morning at 40 army bases across the country, but Suriyasai said there were no immediate plans to hold rolling street rallies like the Red Shirts.

Leaders of the Reds, who have for weeks occupied a main commercial area in the heart of Bangkok, expressed surprise at authorities’ measures Wednesday, when troops fired at protesters on a highway in Bangkok’s northern suburbs.

“We didn’t think that our people would face such heavy security,” a senior Red, Weng Tojirakarn, told reporters.

Troops fired into the air and also directly at the Red Shirts as the standoff between the two sides spilled over from the protesters’ fortified rally base in the heart of the capital, which is under a state of emergency.

One soldier died, apparently from friendly fire.

The army said it had used real bullets in the northern Bangkok standoff, as protesters hurled rocks at soldiers and riot police used razor wire to block their convoy on a major road heading out of the city.

Security forces said they had also seized 62 M79 grenades from suspected Red Shirts riding a motorcycle towards the area where the confrontation occurred.

The Red Shirts have been on alert for another crackdown since April 10, when a failed attempt by the army to clear Bangkok’s historic area descended into bloody street battles that left 25 people dead and hundreds injured.

A series of grenade blasts last week killed one person and injured dozens in the city’s financial district.

The Red Shirts have reinforced their roadblocks and stepped up security checks on the perimeter of their sprawling protest site, which has been fortified with barricades made from piles of truck tyres and bamboo stakes.

Abhisit, regarded as elitist and undemocratic by his opponents, has rejected an offer by the Reds to disperse if elections are held in three months’ time.

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