Troops move in as Bangkok readies itself for conflict

Tense stand-off with red-shirt protesters as soldiers replace police on streets of Thai capital

Tensions continued to rise in the Thai capital yesterday as chanting, red-shirted protesters confronted armed troops at a busy road junction in the centre of the city.

Like so much else about this conflict, it is a surreal sight. Traffic bustles along normally, while on each side of the Silom Road junction, a commercial and shopping district, two violently opposed groups gather menacingly.

The Red Shirts, many of whom support the ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, have vowed to march to Silom Road and the headquarters of Bangkok Bank, defying an emergency decree. They want the Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, to step down and call fresh elections.

They are targeting the Bangkok Bank because one of its advisers is Prem Tinsulanonda, a former army chief and prime minister and the top aide to Thailand's adored King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Troops are occupying a bridge over the Silom Road, which is protected by razor wire and barricades. Protesters are lifting paving stones, presumably to use as missiles. The Red Shirts have also stockpiled sharpened poles and clubs and riot shields snatched during the violence last week, which saw 25 killed and 900 injured and prompted fears of civil war.

From the bridge over the Silom Road, the troops have a perfect vantage point for picking off what they describe as the "terrorists" within the Red Shirt camp – the hardcore group that is orchestrating violent efforts from within the largely peaceable group.

"The situation is serious. Everyone says the army will do something now. The Red Shirt leaders have told everyone not to cross the Silom Road intersection. If they do try ... the army will come from all four sides," said one Red Shirt protester called Kris.

"We just want our country back, she said. "The government only cares about business. We're here to protest, not to practice meditation, but they've already killed many people. They say we are terrorists but everyone has the right to a future."

Mr Abhisit made the army chief General Anupong Paochinda head of national security late last week, replacing a deputy prime minister, effectively admitting that efforts to keep a lid on five weeks of protest have failed.

The military has stepped up its rhetoric since it was given more power to resolve the situation. The army says the protests have played havoc with the Thai economy and the country's international reputation. It is time for the demonstrations to end, and if that means clashes with the protesters, then so be it.

Mr Thaksin's ruling party was dissolved for alleged electoral fraud, paving the way for Mr Abhisit's coalition to take power after a parliamentary vote that the Red Shirts say was influenced heavily by the military. Mr Thaksin has urged the Prime Minister to call a snap election.

Riot police have largely been removed from the streets. There is a feeling that the police, who are working class Thais just like many of the Red Shirts, sympathise with the protesters.

However, the Red Shirts say they also have support within the army from so-called "watermelon soldiers" – green on the outside but red inside. Many of the Red Shirts come from the poor north-east of the country, Mr Thaksin's fiefdom. Many, however, are from Bangkok and insist that the demonstrations are now about much more than bringing back Mr Thaksin.

At the front lines at Silom Road, there is an almost party atmosphere, with many women and children in evidence, not just young men with sticks. The protesters have built an enormous tent city.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life