Thailand will impose a curfew and send Red Cross workers to evacuate women, children and the elderly from Bangkok's deadly protest zone where 25 people have been killed in three days of rolling street battles between anti-government activists and soldiers. A towering column of black smoke rose over the city today as protesters facing off with troops set fire to tires serving as a barricade. Elsewhere, they doused a police traffic post with gasoline and torched it. The army recently declared it was using live ammunition against the protesters, resulting in the rising death toll.
The spiralling violence has raised concerns of sustained, widespread chaos in Thailand - a key US ally and South East Asia's most popular tourist destination that promotes its easy-going culture as the "Land of Smiles." Speaking on his weekly television programme, prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva insisted the military operation to quell protests was the answer in ending the country's two-month-long crisis.
"Overall, I insist the best way to prevent losses is to stop the protest. The protest creates conditions for violence to occur. We do realise at the moment that the role of armed groups is increasing each day," he said. The Red Shirt protesters have occupied a 3-square kilometer zone, barricaded by tires and bamboo spikes, in one of the capital's most glamorous areas, Rajprasong, for about two months. The protsters are pushing their demands for Mr Abhisit to resign immediately, dissolve Parliament and call new elections.
Army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd announced on national television the government will send the Red Cross and voluntary organisations into the protest zone to "invite or persuade people, especially women, children and older people to leave the area." About 5,000 people are believed camped in the protest zone, down from about 10,000 before fighting started Thursday after a sniper shot and seriously wounded a Red Shirt leader.