Thai Army: Bangkok under control

7 Red-Shirt leaders surrender, call end sit-in; violence continues.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
May 19, 2010 10:30
1 minute read.
Thai riot police detain protester.

Thai protester arrested. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

 
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BANGKOK — The Thai army has declared an end to the operation against anti-government protesters and says that troops are now in control.

Despite the army claim, violence continued as Red Shirt protesters set fires in several parts of downtown Bangkok.

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Army spokesman Col. Sansern Kawekamnerd told a Wednesday news conference that soldiers have entered the Rajprasong shopping district that protesters had occupied since mid-April. He said police and soldiers had completed their operations.

Seven leaders of Thailand's Red Shirt protesters have surrendered to authorities after a deadly army assault on their fortified encampment.

Red Shirt leaders told followers they are formally ending their sit-in to prevent more deaths. The army assault on their protest encampment killed two protesters and an Italian photographer.

They have been led away by police in central Bangkok. Army spokesman described them as "terrorist leaders."

However, grenades exploded nearby as the Red Shirts announced their decision. Two soldiers and a journalist were wounded. Angry protesters also tried to set fire to a high-end shopping mall, and black smoke billowed over Bangkok's skyline.

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At least 37 people were killed over five days of rioting and clashes in downtown sections of Bangkok, paralyzing parts of the capital and destabilizing a country regarded as one of Southeast Asia's strongest democracies.

The military defended its use of deadly but limited force, saying troops only fired to protect themselves and Bangkok's citizens and did not pursue pre-emptive attacks.

The Red Shirts have for a month occupied a 1-square-mile (3-square-kilometer) chunk of downtown Bangkok's best real estate, camping in the streets next to shuttered five-star hotels and upscale shopping malls.

The protesters, many of whom hail from the impoverished north and northeast, demanded the prime minister dissolve Parliament and call early elections. They say the current administration came to power through manipulation of the courts and the backing of the powerful military, and that it goes against results of a 2007 election to restore democracy after a military coup.

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