05/13/2010, 00.00
THAILAND
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Army surrounding red shirts as crisis hits the stock market

The authorities are getting ready for a showdown with demonstrators who vow to fight on. Protest leader says, “We will fight with our bare hands." Thai prime minister withdraws offer to hold elections on 14 November, pledges “to restore normalcy as soon as possible.” Markets are down as fears grow with regard to tourism.
Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Thai authorities are preparing for a showdown with red-shirt protesters, who have occupied Bangkok’s business district since 3 April. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has also withdrawn his offer for early elections on 14 November. In the meantime, Thailand’s SET Index fell almost 1 per cent amid fears that the ongoing crisis will devastate the tourist sector.

The protest by red-shirted supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is now in exile, has been going on for the past two months without the government or the military trying to use force to remove them. Nonetheless, clashes on 10 April caused the death of 29 people and injuries to almost a thousand.

Now the authorities appear poised to settle the issue once and for all after public opinion began turning against them for their apparent inability to find a solution.

Shops and businesses have been urged to close and public transport in the area has been suspended at 6 pm.

Armoured vehicles have been deployed close to protesters’ stands and soldiers appear ready to use live rounds, this according to police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri, who also urged residents and businesses in the area to vacate the affected downtown areas.

Many are increasingly concerned that the confrontation might degenerate into civil war as demonstrators vow not to give up without a fight and this despite threats from the army.

Weng Tojirakarn, a leader of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), said, “We want peace but they want war. Come and get in".

"We will fight with our bare hands,” he insisted. “We will stay."

In a meeting with reporters, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva announced that he was withdrawing his road map for peace and reconciliation, which he had offered protesters a few days ago.  The proposal included dissolving parliament by late September and early elections on 14 November.

“I have cancelled the election date [. . .] because protesters refuse to disperse," he said. "I have told security officials to restore normalcy as soon as possible."

As the political crisis continues, it is taking its toll on the economy. Thailand’s SET Index fell almost 0.9 per cent, bucking gains across Asia. Increasingly, Thais are concerned that more bloodshed will deter foreign tourists and further affect an already weakened tourist sector. Thailand’s currency, the baht, has also lost against the US dollar.

“The political situation is worsening and people are scared,” Chatchawan Jumruswittayawong, a foreign-exchange trader at Bank of Ayudhya Pcl in Bangkok, told Bloomberg.

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