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77 injured in Thai clash

BANGKOK, 13 April 2009: Thais woke up today to celebrate their traditional new year or Songkran in a sombre mood after at least 77 protestors and troops were injured in a crackdown ordered by embattled Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Soldiers fired shots and used tear gas in the early morning clash.

Speculation has been rife that top military brass and police are reluctant to enforce the state of emergency that Abhisit declared yesterday.

Some sources said the premier was told by the powerful Army chief Anupong Paojinda to dissolve Parliament to ease the situation.

Abhisit himself was almost killed by an angry crowd while leaving the Interior Ministry yesterday morning.

This forced the military to send troops out to the roads as supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra prepared for a do-or-die battle.

Thai government spokesperson Panithan Wattanayakorn told the media that soldiers had to use force after negotiations with the protesters broke down and they were attacked with homemade bombs.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration said so far there were no deaths and all those injured, including with gun shots, were rushed to several nearby hospitals.

Bangkok Mayor Sukhumbhand Paribatra has cancelled all Songkran celebrations in the capital, including at the Khao San area which is popular with backpackers.

Still, many foreigners and locals went for a wild celebration in Silom hours before the clash at Victory Monument.

Abhisit became premier in December after Thaksin’s brother-in-law, Somchai Wongsawat, was stripped of his post by the Constitution Court.

He is going for broke after being humiliated by the red-shirted protesters who stormed the venue of the 14th Asean Summit in Pattaya on Saturday and forced its cancellation.

Before Abhisit’s announcement of the state of emergency, the number of people at the Government House dropped to about 2,000 from as high as 100,000 on Wednesday as many left to celebrate Songkran. But the crowd swelled to over 20,000 last night.

“We are ready to die…our weapons are just sticks and stones. We want real democracy in the country, not military and old people like Prem (Tinsulanonda) dictating (to) us what to do,” a protester, who wanted to be known as Tor only, said when met at the Royal Plaza.

Thaksin had accused Prem, the Privy Council president and former prime minister, as the brains behind his 19 Sept 2006 ouster.

Protesters gathered sticks, wood left from a recent fair and stones to confront security forces, while check-points were mounted along the roads to the Government House where leaders took turns to blast Abhisit and demand for his resignation.

Hundreds of riot police and soldiers armed with automatic weapons stood guard in the vicinity of the seat of the country’s administration, many of them at the junction leading to the Chitralada Palace.

“Please don’t use force against us, we are all Thai people,” a woman protester said while giving away several bowls of rice porridge to anti-riot police officers at an intersection leading to Prem’s house.

Authorities reported disruption to public transportation, including train services after protesters seized more than 20 buses and blocked roads and railway tracks to stop any crackdown by security forces.

Most of the shopping malls in the capital remained closed today as people stayed away from the city centre. — Bernama

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