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NEWS UPDATES 30 April 2010

Thai protesters storm Bangkok hospital; patients evacuated

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A major hospital in the Thai capital evacuated patients and suspended all but emergency surgery Friday after anti-government protesters who occupy a nearby zone stormed in to hunt for security forces they suspected were positioned there, reported the Associated Press.

A group of so-called Red Shirts broke into Chulalongkorn Hospital late Thursday despite pleas from its director, then withdrew back into their enclave after not finding soldiers or police within the sprawling compound.

A hospital announcement said patients were being sent to other hospitals or to buildings farther away from the Red Shirts. Almost all outpatient services were being suspended along with surgery, except in emergency cases.

The Red Shirts, who began their protests March 12 in their campaign to force immediate elections, have defied authorities at every turn, entering the Parliament building, laying siege to a telecommunications complex, blocking roads and staging mass motorized rallies in the Thai capital. At least 27 people have died and nearly 1,000 have been injured in outbreaks of street violence.

Security forces have in almost every instance been unable or unwilling to stop the Red Shirt forays, including the incursion into the century-old public hospital, which feared a second break-in Friday.

However, Weng Tojirakarn, a Red Shirt leader and medical doctor, issued a "deep apology" for the raid staged by up to 100 protesters. He called it "inappropriate, too much, and unreasonable."

Authorities sent about 100 police to guard the hospital grounds after the incident.

The prolonged political crisis in Thailand has hurt business in the capital and devastated the country's vital tourist industry, which accounts for 6 percent of the economy.

Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij said on Friday that the ongoing political unrest could lower the country's economic growth to two per cent, down from the 4.5 percent target for this year. The continuing red-shirt protests has lower Thai economic growth rate by more than 0.5 per cent, Korn was quoted as telling local media.

Parts of Bangkok's commercial heart have become a barricaded Red Shirt protest camp, forcing the closure of some of the city's ritziest malls and hotels. The "occupied zone" flanks Chulalonkgorn Hospital and abuts Silom Road, the capital's "Wall Street" which has become a camp ground for military and police units.



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