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 14 Apr 2009

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Violent protests left two dead, 120 injured in Bangkok

Thai troops unleashed volleys of gunfire in street battles with anti-government protesters across Bangkok Monday, forcing them back to their main rallying site in a final push to end days of turmoil, reported AFP.

Two men were killed during clashes between rioting red-shirt protesters and city residents protecting their property while 120 others injured.

Local television broadcasts showed protesters putting commandeered buses on fire and hurling blazing molotov cocktails at advancing troops. The protesters later retreated to their camp around Government House, the office of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, a day after the embattled premier imposed a state of emergency in the capital.

Still reeling after the supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra forced the cancellation of a major Asian summit at the weekend, Abhisit warned the protesters should disperse or face the consequences.

"Those who want to help the government restore normality can return home," Abhisit said in a televised address. "The government has carefully mapped out a plan to implement the law."

He denied Thaksin's claim that authorities were covering up protest deaths. An army spokesman meanwhile said that while live rounds were fired overhead to "terrify" protesters, only blanks were used in close-range encounters.

Troops began the crackdown just before dawn Monday, firing hundreds of rounds into the air after demonstrators blocking a major intersection pelted them with rocks and petrol bombs, AFP reporters said.

Military commander Songkitti Jaggabatara, meanwhile, vowed to restore order using "all possible means" and said that while his troops would not instigate violence, they reserved the right to self-defence if attacked.

The military's support after a period of apparent reluctance on Sunday strengthened the embattled Abhisit's hand in the crisis. The army refused to enforce emergency decrees by previous pro-Thaksin governments last year.

But the chaos will hit Thailand's vital tourism industry hard, with the bulk of the trouble erupting just streets away from malls where tourists who had come to Bangkok for the Thai New Year were faced with closed signs.

The European Union expressed "great concern" at the situation, while Australia, Russia and Hong Kong joined governments around the world in urging their citizens to avoid or reconsider travelling to Bangkok.




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