Thailand crisis deepens as Red Shirts prolong protests

Anti-government protesters encamped for weeks in central Bangkok promised more aggressive measures after the government rejected their proposals to end increasingly violent protests in return for early polls.

Red Shirt protest leaders called on their supporters in the countryside to confront the army and police. Their backers responded by blockading police convoys in at least two areas, raising questions over whether the prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva can exert full control over rebellious parts of Thailand as the deadly protests entered a seventh week.

About 310 miles north of Bangkok, hundreds of Red Shirts formed a roadblock in Udon Thani province to stop a convoy of 150 police from heading to the capital. They formed another roadblock in Pathum Thani, about 30 miles north of Bangkok, preventing around 200 policemen from entering the city. Police reinforcements are being brought into the capital to disperse thousands of protesters, said Red Shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan. "We will try to block every spot we can in a bid to stop killing. We don't want to see anybody die."

The army's failed attempt to eject Red Shirts from another site in Bangkok on 10 April led to clashes that killed 25 and wounded more than 800.

Mr Abhisit, speaking yesterday in a televised interview – together with the army chief Anupong Paochinda in a show of solidarity with the military – flatly rejected a red shirt offer to call elections in 30 days and hold a vote 60 days later.

The developments rekindled fears of more unrest and a heavier toll on Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy as more retailers shut their doors and tourist numbers dwindled. Mr Abhisit said he would soon scale back Thailand's annual economic growth forecast.