Forces storm Thai protest rally, leaders surrender (Fourth Lead)May 19th, 2010 - 6:02 pm ICT by IANS
Bangkok, May 19 (IANS) The nine-week anti-government bloody protest by Thailand’s red shirts ended Wednesday after security forces stormed the outer barricades of a rally here. An Italian journalist was killed in the fresh clashes as the protest leaders surrendered, but vowed to continue their fight.
Italian photojournalist Fabio Polenghi was among the at least five people killed in the Thai capital, Italian news agency AKI reported.
The Italian foreign ministry confirmed Polenghi was killed as troops in armoured vehicles assaulted the protesters’ barricades. Polenghi, 45, a freelance photographer since 2004, had been in Thailand for three months.
Nattawut Saikua, Jatuporn Prompan and several other key leaders of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) surrendered at the Royal Thai Police headquarters.
“Don’t worry too much about me,” DPA quoted Nattawut as saying, minutes before he surrendered. “I will be safe. The police have been friendly with us since the start of the demonstration.”
Jatuporn said: “Just because we surrender to the authorities doesn’t mean we have lost,” he said. “We will fight again.”
Nattawut, speaking on behalf of all the red-shirts leaders at the site, said they decided to call an end to the rally to avoid further loss of lives, Xinhua news agency reported.
The nine-week protest has led to fierce street fighting that has paralysed central Bangkok and claimed 68 lives; more than 1,400 people have been injured.
The protesters have been demanding that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolve parliament and hold new elections. When on May 3 he agreed to hold elections Nov 14, the movement raised new demands that eventually scuttled Abhisit’s peace proposal.
Though the leaders surrendered, violence in Bangkok did not cease.
A bus was set ablaze near sky train Asok station and clouds of smoke could be seen from various locations across the city.
Thai troops, deployed at the intersection of Rama IV and Silom roads, used their armoured vehicles to break through barricades of rubber tyres and bamboo sticks outside Lumpini Park that had been erected weeks ago by protesters who have occupied the Ratchaprasong commercial district since April 3.
Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn described the effort to retake Lumpini Park as “successful”.
It has been largely abandoned by the protesters since Thursday, the day the government launched its offensive to clear the protesters from Ratchaprasong, an upmarket shopping and hotel district in central Bangkok that has been transformed into a fortified protest zone.
Crowds sympathetic to the Bangkok protesters were reported by local media to be gathering in several north-eastern provinces. Another anti-government crowd gathered north of Bangkok.
Shortly after the deployment of troops Wednesday at Rama IV, red shirts reportedly set fire to the Office of Narcotics Bureau at Din Daeng Road north of Rathaprasong, where bloody street battles raged over the weekend.
On Tuesday night, efforts by the Thai Senate to mediate a ceasefire between the protesters and the government had failed.
Many of the red-shirt protesters, agitated over their colleagues slain by troops over the past two months, rejected the Senate proposal.
The prime minister insisted that the protest must cease before the government would negotiate with the demonstrators.
Government officials have maintained that fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the key political and financial supporter of the red shirts, is opposed to ending the demonstration until he can meet his own personal goals of obtaining an amnesty from a two-year jail term and have $1.4 billion in seized assets returned.
Thaksin was overthrown by a military coup in 2006 and fled the country to avoid a two-year prison term for corruption.
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