Thai protesters vow to fight as siege looms

BANGKOK, May 12, 2010 (AFP) - Thailand's "Red Shirt" opposition protesters vowed Wednesday to "fight to the death" as authorities prepared to lay siege to their sprawling encampment in the capital after peace talks broke down.

The government announced it would cut off food, water and power supplies to the vast rally site in central Bangkok, urging local residents to leave as it prepared to seal off the area to prevent reinforcements arriving.

A Thai "Red Shirt" demonstrator sleeps inside a fortified camp in Bangkok. AFP photo

The mainly poor and working class Red Shirts shrugged off the tough new measures, rejecting a demand by embattled Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva for the protests to end on Wednesday.

"If you want to crack down you're welcome at any time," said one of the protest leaders, Jatupron Prompan. "We will fight to the death," he said.

The Red Shirts have said they will continue their rally until deputy premier Suthep Thaugsuban is charged for his role overseeing a deadly April 10 crackdown, when armed troops attempted to clear part of the capital.

As talks between the two sides over Abhisit's peace roadmap stalled, the authorities said they would cut off vital supplies, as well as telephone and transportation links, to the site at midnight Wednesday.

"This is the beginning of measures to fully impose the law," said Sunsern Kaewkumnerd, a spokesman for the government unit set up to deal with the crisis, warning the authorities were ready to disperse protesters if necessary.

"The army is ready, but at this moment I don't want to talk about a crackdown as we want to use measures to put pressure on them," he said.

"To the residents in the area: please leave. After midnight, authorities will not allow anyone to come in," Sunsern said, noting that some homes and foreign embassies would suffer disruption to their water and power supplies.

The movement has said it agrees to Abhisit's reconciliation roadmap to elections on November 14, but wants to see the government take responsibility for the April 10 incident, in which 25 people lost their lives.

"None of the Red Shirts are afraid of your threats to cut water and power. We will run at soldiers with our two bare hands even if they fire at us with assault rifles," said one protest leader, Weng Tojirakarn.

Abhisit has warned he may scrap the plan for early elections if the protesters do not leave their vast base, which has been fortified with barricades made from piles of fuel-soaked tyres, bamboo poles and razor wire.

"If the situation does not return to normal it will delay the election day, so protesters should go home on the 12th (of May)," he said Tuesday.

The Reds say the government is undemocratic because it came to power in a 2008 parliamentary vote after a court ruling ousted elected allies of their hero, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was unseated in a 2006 coup.

Their ranks were boosted over the weekend by 5,000 more supporters who arrived from the movement's heartland in the impoverished rural northeast, defying a ban on rallies in the capital, which is under a state of emergency.

"The authorities must implement steps to make protesters suffer and leave the protest site," a ruling party lawmaker, Sirichoke Sopa, told AFP.

"The roadmap still exists, but their demand for Suthep to turn himself in to police is not possible and not practical because he's a political appointee," said Sirichoke, who is close to Abhisit.

Suthep went to the Department of Special Investigation Tuesday to hear a complaint against him after the Reds demanded he turn himself in to police, but Red leaders refused to disband until a formal case was opened against him.

Twenty nine people have been killed and almost 1,000 injured in Bangkok in a series of confrontations and attacks since the protests began in mid-March, in Thailand's worst political violence in almost two decades.

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