05/17/2010, 00.00
THAILAND
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"Red shirt" general dies. Tension rises in other provinces

At 2pm yet another ultimatum expires. Women and children flee to a temple. The government rejects UN mediation. A quarter of the country under emergency rule. Markets fall by 2.5%.

Bangkok (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Gen. Khattiya Sawasdipol, a prominent figure of the "red shirts" died this morning in hospital. He had been shot in the head last May 13, in correspondence with a decisive military action to evict the protest from the commercial center of the capital.

Since demonstrations began in early March there have been at least 65 dead and more than 1,600 wounded. Last night there were gunshots in the now isolated zone and the government has launched yet another ultimatum to vacate the area occupied by the 2pm (local time). The army has also invited women, elderly and children present among the demonstrators to leave the area by ensuring their safety and return to their homes. But people are afraid because the area is under the control of soldiers sent to shoot. Hundreds of women and children have fled to a temple near the barricades.

Yesterday the "red shirts” spokesperson requested a ceasefire and the reopening of negotiations with a UN presence, but the government refused.

The "red shirts", mostly peasants, workers and lower middle class, support the return of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and accuse Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of seizing power illegally, backed by the military and elite of the royal court.

The government fears that the insurgency is spreading to other regions of the country. Yesterday a state of emergency was extended to five other provinces. A quarter of the country - especially the northern and north-east, traditional electoral base for Thaksin - are under military control.

Schools and offices are closed for two days of vacation - today and tomorrow - decreed by the government. Financial markets and banks are open and close one hour earlier, so far registering a drop of 2.5 percent.

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