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Pro-Thaksin red shirts battle troops in Bangkok


BANGKOK

Demonstrators in Bangkok burn buses, throw stones and Molotov cocktails at soldiers as armed forcesfire back in street battles that have injured 74.

Photo by: AFP

 A Thai soldier is hit by a Molotov cocktail as he charges supporters of exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra  and fire rounds in the air Monday in Bangkok.

BANGKOK - Thai soldiers fired volleys of shots in the air to disperse protesters blocking key roads Monday in Bangkok, as the first show of force by the government since declaring emergency rule left 74 wounded.

Demonstrators sent hijacked buses and Molotov cocktails hurtling towards military lines in a chaotic battle at one intersection, where soldiers fired assault rifles and tear gas shells as they advanced, AFP reporters said.

The supreme military commander vowed to restore order using "all possible means", a day after embattled Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva announced a state of emergency to curb protesters who had disrupted a key Asian summit.

In a televised address on Monday, Abhisit accused the red-shirted supporters of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra of stockpiling weapons and warned peaceful demonstrators calling for his resignation to disperse.

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

The government has carefully mapped out a plan to implement the law

Thailand has endured years of political turmoil, but this is the biggest crisis that Abhisit has faced since he came to power in December, following a controversial court ruling that drove Thaksin's allies out of office.
Troops first moved before dawn to secure Bangkok's busy Din Daeng intersection, with soldiers firing hundreds of rounds into the air after protesters pelted them with rocks and Molotov cocktails, AFP reporters said.

Photo by: AFP

Protesters loyal to ousted ex-premier Thaksin throw stones at soldiers, in Bangkok on Monday. Thai troops launched a crackdown to enforce a state of emergency in the capital.

The government announced it had secured the area, but demonstrators played cat-and-mouse with soldiers throughout the morning, before a second round of clashes erupted at lunchtime at the nearby Victory Monument landmark.

Protesters set fire to hijacked buses, but as soldiers advanced with water cannons, the demonstrators weighted down the pedals of at least three buses with water bottles which then careered towards the lines of military.

Soldiers unleashed deafening bursts of automatic gunfire for several minutes in a number of locations after the bus attacks.

"We reserve the right to use weapons in self-defence," the military's Supreme Commander, Songkitti Jaggabatara, said in a television address.

It is the first time the army has taken action since Abhisit ordered tanks and soldiers onto the streets of Bangkok on Sunday.

Abhisit said 70 people were wounded, 23 of them soldiers, but rejected claims on a protesters' radio station that four demonstrators were killed. Police later said another four were hurt and that there were 10 gunshot wounds in total.

The government said it would move to protect airports and ports, while soldiers were deployed at train stations and at strategic locations including the electricity authority.

But authorities made no effort to clear the main body of some 10,000 so far peaceful protesters who defied the state of emergency and remained camped out at Government House.

"Abhisit, are you still a human being? This is a most inhuman act, to crack down on unarmed protesters," protest leader Jatuporn Prompan told the crowd there.

Demonstrations also reportedly spread to northern Thailand, Thaksin's stronghold, where he is popular among the rural poor.

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