Thai protesters ask EU to help in bloody crisis

Thailand’s “Red Shirt” protesters on Thursday called on the European Union (EU) to send observers to prevent a crackdown by the army, but the government warned others not to meddle in its internal affairs.

A day after violent clashes on Bangkok’s streets between demonstrators and troops left one soldier dead and 18 people injured, the Reds asked the EU delegation in Bangkok for help in the crisis.

“Faced with the threat of tanks and impending bloodshed, we are appealing for your help in averting a human rights catastrophe,” said a letter the Reds submitted at the EU delegation’s office.

“Therefore, we beg you to condemn and stop this government’s crackdown so that innocent lives will not be lost.”

The Reds — who want immediate elections to replace Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government — sent the letter to EU ambassador David Lipman with an “urgent request” to send monitors to Bangkok to prevent another crackdown.

The ambassador met the protesters briefly and called for a peaceful, negotiated solution to the crisis, said an EU statement.

The meeting followed last week’s invitation by Red leaders to Bangkok’s diplomatic community to visit their protest site, but Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya dismissed the idea of foreign assistance.

“There is no need for international intervention at this point in time,” Kasit told a news conference during a visit to Jakarta.

“We’re very much in control of the situation and it’s still very much an internal affair of Thailand,” he said, adding the government was “concerned” that some diplomats had visited protesters.

Thailand is reeling from the worst political violence in almost two decades in its capital, where 27 people have died and almost 1 000 have been injured this month in a series of bloody confrontations.

Many of the Reds come from Thailand’s rural poor and urban working classes and seek the return of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and now lives overseas to avoid a jail term for corruption.

The country is largely split between the Reds and the pro-government Yellow Shirts, who staged their own street protests that heralded the 2006 coup ousting their enemy Thaksin.

Around 1 000 Yellows gathered Thursday outside an army base where Abhisit and his cabinet have been working since demonstrations began last month.

The Yellows’ rally, the first by the movement since the Reds began their own mass protests in mid-March, demanded the government and army get tougher on Red demonstrators and impose martial law in Bangkok.

Amid fears of factional violence between the two camps, the Yellows said they held similar rallies Thursday at more than 40 army bases across the country.

The Reds, who for weeks have occupied a main commercial area in Bangkok, confronted soldiers Wednesday on a highway in Bangkok’s northern suburbs.

Troops fired into the air and also directly at the Red Shirts as the standoff between the two sides spilled over from the protesters’ fortified rally base in the heart of the capital, which is under a state of emergency.

One soldier died, apparently from friendly fire. Deputy premier Suthep Thaugsuban said Thursday that authorities would investigate the death.

The army said it had used real bullets in the northern Bangkok standoff, as protesters hurled rocks at soldiers and riot police used razor wire to block their convoy on a major road heading out of the city.

Security forces said they had also seized 62 M79 grenades from suspected Red Shirts riding a motorcycle towards the area where the confrontation occurred.

The Red Shirts have been on alert for a crackdown since April 10, when a failed attempt by the army to clear Bangkok’s historic area turned into bloody street battles that left 25 people dead and hundreds injured.

A series of grenade blasts last week killed one person and injured dozens in the city’s financial district.

The Red Shirts have reinforced roadblocks and stepped up security checks on the perimeter of their sprawling protest site, which has been fortified with barricades made from piles of truck tyres, razor wire and bamboo stakes.

Abhisit, seen as elitist and undemocratic by his opponents, has rejected a compromise offer by the Reds to disperse if elections are held in three months’ time, and the protesters have reverted to their original demand for snap polls. –AFP

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