Monday, November 29, 1999

Rogue soldier allied to Thai "red shirts" dies

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A renegade Thai soldier seen as the de facto military adviser to anti-government "red shirt" protesters died on Monday, the director of the hospital where he was being treated after an assassination attempt said.Major General Khattiya Sawasdipol, better known as Seh Daeng, was shot in the head on Thursday, an incident that fuelled the latest flare-up in violence in Bangkok between troops and protesters trying to overthrow the government.The fighting has now killed 36 people since Thursday, according to official medical sources.A Reuters photographer reported heavy fighting overnight at the luxury Dusit Thani Hotel in the Silom area, right opposite one of the barricades set up by the "red shirt" protesters around their 3 sq-km (1.2 sq-mile) encampment."Everybody was evacuated from their room and spent the night in the basement," said the photographer. "There was a lot of shooting," he said, adding fire had damaged parts of the hotel.Thai TV reported that one person was killed when grenades were fired at the hotel. That could not be confirmed."We cannot retreat now," Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said in a televised statement late on Sunday, encapsulating the government's all-or-nothing campaign to end protests seeking to topple his fragile, six-party coalition.At least 65 people have been killed and more than 1,600 wounded since the red shirts began their protest in mid-March.The government considered imposing a curfew on Sunday night but decided against it. However, schools in parts of Bangkok are to stay closed this week and the government has made Monday and Tuesday public holidays to keep civilians out of the centre.Financial markets and banks are open, although the stock market -- which was down 2.5 percent -- is closing an hour early on Monday at 3:30 p.m. (0830 GMT)."We can't see when the turmoil will end now and it seems the situation is just getting fiercer. The protesters are separating to many different spots and the government isn't retreating," said Kavee Chukitkasem, head of research at Kasikorn Securities."As long as we can't guess the outcome, our stock market is going to look even worse than our neighbours', which will be hit by the euro debt jitters," he added.SEEKING REFUGEThe government has told women, children and elderly people in the main protest camp in an upmarket Bangkok shopping district to get out by 3 p.m. (0800 GMT) on Monday and a government official said they would be given free transport home.Hundreds of women and children have sought refuge in a temple in the area.The mostly rural and urban poor protesters, supporters of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, accuse the government of colluding with the royalist elite and meddling with the judiciary to bring down two Thaksin-allied governments.Analysts and diplomats said the military had underestimated the resolve of thousands of "red shirt" protesters who had taken over a district of luxury hotels and shopping malls from April 3."Unless the government cracks down and does so decisively -- and that's a big if -- we are going to be seeing rioting and guerrilla warfare, possibly spreading out to other areas," said an Asian diplomat who declined to be identified.A red shirt leader, Nattawut Saikua, called for a ceasefire and U.N.-moderated talks to end the violence but the government rejected the idea.A state of emergency has spread to more than a quarter of the country after emergency decrees were declared in five more provinces on Sunday, bringing the total to 22, as violence erupted in the north and northeast, a Thaksin stronghold home to just over half of Thailand's 67 million people.In Ubon Ratchathani province, protesters burned tyres on several roads. One group tried to break into a military compound but were forced back by soldiers firing guns in the air.The most severe fighting in Bangkok on Sunday took place in the Bon Kai area, around Rama IV Road, a major artery to the business district. Troops fired semi-automatic weapons as protesters hurled petrol bombs and burned tyres to provide cover.Thousands of protesters rallied in the working class Klong Toey area over the weekend, near the fighting on Rama IV Road. A new protest site would vastly complicate attempts to end the protests and resolve a crisis that has battered the economy.The government insists some protesters are armed with guns and grenades. Soldiers can shoot if protesters come within 36 metres (120 ft) of army lines, army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said.(Additional reporting by Jason Szep, Ambika Ahuja, Ploy Ten Kate, Khettiya Jittapong, Panarat Thepgumpanat and Martin Petty; Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by David Fox)

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