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Thai protesters defy troops order
Bangkok, May 17 (Agencies):
Published on 17 May. 2010 10:48 PM IST
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Anti-government protesters in Bangkok have defied orders to leave their fortified camp in the Thai capital.
The protesters - many of them women - continued to clap and cheer speakers on stage in the centre of their vast camp as a deadline passed.
Soldiers have been shooting live rounds to keep protesters at a distance as one government minister said the operation to “seal the area” would continue.
Violence since Thursday has left 36 dead, and some 250 injured.
Renegade Thai general Khattiya Sawasdipol died on Monday, five days after being shot as he spoke to reporters about his backing for the protest movement.
The government says it will talk to the protesters as long as they show “sincerity” by leaving their camp.
The protest leaders, for their part, have offered UN-mediated talks on condition the government pulls back its troops. Loudspeakers, TV announcements and mobile phone messages were used to warn the protesters - particularly women, children and the elderly - they should leave by 1500 (0800 GMT).
I am standing in the centre of the protesters’ camp, in front of the stage.
The deadline has just passed. But there are still people up on stage giving speeches and there are still people sitting and standing in front of them, cheering and clapping.
There aren’t as many people here as there once were and I would say the majority of people sitting on the ground in front of the stage are women.
Every now and again people look up in the air. They can hear an aircraft going overhead. They know they’ve been told that they had the chance to leave, but those that are here are defiantly staying put.
The government offered free transportation home for those who left, and warned that the area was not safe and anyone who stayed could face up to two years in prison. But few of the 5,000 remaining protesters appeared to heed the call.
The BBC’s Rachel Harvey, in the protesters’ camp, said that as the deadline passed speeches were still being given and people - the majority of them women - were clapping and cheering them on. “We will stay here persistently. And we’ll ask (tell) every people don’t be afraid. Just sit still and stand still here. And don’t fight back. And if they would like to kill us, let them kill us,” protest leader Weng Tojirakarn told demonstrators.
A group of more than 300 people who sought refuge in a nearby temple have told volunteers there that they do not trust the government’s offer of safe passage and do not dare to leave, the BBC was told. Satit Wonghnongtaey, a minister attached to the prime minister’s office, said the government would not back down in its attempt “to tighten the seal around the protest area”.
“We would like to urge fellow citizens to be careful and protect themselves,” he said. The BBC’s Chris Hogg is out on the streets of Bangkok and says the situation remains very tense.
He says Thai soldiers are pursuing a policy of containment by fire, shooting live rounds towards the encampment in an effort to keep protesters at a safe distance from them.
There was fresh fighting along a street of upmarket hotels overnight, which saw the first death among the soldiers. Guests at one of the hotels, the Dusit Thani, were rushed from their rooms into the building’s basement after gunfire and explosions shook the area.
A state of emergency has now been declared in 22 provinces across the country - mostly in the protesters’ northern heartlands - in a bid to stop more demonstrators heading to the capital.
Protests have spread outside the capital with a military bus set afire in the northern city of Chiang Mai and demonstrations in two north-eastern towns in defiance of a government ban.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has declared Monday and Tuesday as public holidays and delayed the start of Bangkok’s school term, but a planned curfew was cancelled.
Many of the protesters, called red-shirts after the colour they have adopted, are from poor rural areas in northern Thailand where support is still strong for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup.
He is living abroad to avoid a jail term on a corruption conviction.
The protesters say the current government is illegitimate, having come to power in a parliamentary vote after a pro-Thaksin government was forced to step down in December 2008 by a Constitutional Court ruling that it had committed electoral fraud.

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