Fight Not Over, Say Red Shirts as They Are Herded out of Bangkok

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The Times Online/UK

Fight Not Over, Say Red Shirts as They Are Herded out of Bangkok

Richard Lloyd Parry, Bangkok

A statue of Buddha and a torn Thai national flag remain in front of Bangkok's Central World shopping mall, which was gutted by fire after troops stormed a protest encampment on May 19, 2010. (ADREES LATIF/REUTERS)

Weeping Red Shirt protesters were herded on to buses and sent home today as the Thai authorities began to clean up Bangkok after the spasm of killing and destruction that brought their demonstrations to an end.

In a Buddhist temple were laid out the corpses of six people, victims of a wild and one-sided burst of shooting by Thai soldiers into the sanctuary where thousands of Red Shirts had fled. Fifteen people were killed and nearly 100 injured when the army stormed the protesters' encampment shortly after dawn yesterday.

Bangkok was tense but peaceful tonight as Thai soldiers and police moved through the abandoned remnants of the Red Shirt rallying area where protest leaders unexpectedly announced their surrender in the face of a deadly army assault.

Groups of frightened but defiant Red Shirts emerged from hiding after spending last night huddled in the grounds of shuttered luxury hotels. Above the deserted stage where tens of thousands of people used to hold protest rallies, smoke rose from the ruined and partially collapsed Central World shopping centre. It was set on fire by a furious mob after the capitulation of the Red Shirt leaders.

"There will be much more of that to come," said Mayuree Sawatasai, a woman who spent the night in the car park of a five-star hotel with 200 fellow protesters from Ayutthaya province, north of Bangkok. "It was done by people who couldn't take it any more and who saw their people getting hurt. Many of the people who came with me from Ayutthaya say to me, ‘I want to burn [buildings]'."

The protesters were escorted to the nearby police headquarters, from where they were taken to bus stations and sent back to their home provinces. After the two-month-long protest, during which many of them had slept rough on the streets of Bangkok, there was no serious resistance. But almost all of them insisted that the struggle to force the Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, to call an election would continue.

"They got us out of here but that doesn't mean they've won," said Puwanai Sorabud, a tour guide from the northern city of Chiang Rai. "They cannot fight so many voices."

Veera Musikapong and Weng Tojirakarn. two more leaders of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship - the biggest Red Shirt organisation - handed themselves in today.

"I'd like to ask all sides to calm down and talk with each other in a peaceful manner," Mr Veera, the UDD's chairman, said in a television statement broadcast after his arrest. "Please dissolve your anger. Democracy cannot be built on revenge and anger."

The Government announced that the curfew imposed in Wednesday would be extended for three more nights in twenty-three of Thailand's provinces.

Outside Bangkok four provincial government offices were burnt and one person was reported to have been killed in the northeastern province of Khon Kaen. There were continuing protests in the country's third city, Chiang Mai.

In the past months Thailand has suffered the worst political violence of its modern history. Since the middle of March, when the UDD began its protests in Bangkok, at least 83 people have died and 1,800 have been injured, mostly civilians shot by the Royal Thai Army.

One of the most shocking incidents of all occurred yesterday evening when soldiers fired into the Wat Pathumwanaram Buddhist temple, apparently responding to protesters who launched fireworks at them.

As the sun rose today, the scale of the physical damage to property and infrastructure also became clear. In the capital countless windows were smashed in the hours after the Red Shirt capitulation and 39 separate buildings were reported to have been set on fire, including the stock exchange, a cinema and a television station.

The most spectacular destruction was of the Central World shopping centre, where one side of the building had collapsed, exposing a mass of ash, broken glass and ineffectually dribbling sprinklers. With almost six million square feet of shopping pace, the mall used to take 5.2 billion baht (£112 million) a month.

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