Thai troops take control

19:44, May 31 2010
Thai soldiers take their positions during firefight with anti-government protesters near Lumphini park in Bangkok's financial district.
Thai soldiers take their positions during firefight with anti-government protesters near Lumphini park in Bangkok's financial district.
Thai soldiers regroup during a pause in a firefight with anti-government protesters in Bangkok's financial district.
Thai soldiers regroup during a pause in a firefight with anti-government protesters in Bangkok's financial district.
An anti-government "red shirt" leader delivers a speech as tensions rise in the barricaded anti-government "red shirt" encampment at Bangkok's shopping district.
An anti-government "red shirt" leader delivers a speech as tensions rise in the barricaded anti-government "red shirt" encampment at Bangkok's shopping district.
Smoke fills the air as anti-government 'red shirt' protesters use a makeshift launcher to shoot fireworks towards army soldiers in Bangkok.
Smoke fills the air as anti-government 'red shirt' protesters use a makeshift launcher to shoot fireworks towards army soldiers in Bangkok.
An anti-government "red shirt" protester holding a firecracker and a slingshot looks out on the perimeter of the barricaded anti-government "red shirt" encampment at Bangkok's shopping district.
An anti-government "red shirt" protester holding a firecracker and a slingshot looks out on the perimeter of the barricaded anti-government "red shirt" encampment at Bangkok's shopping district.
A man stands in front of burning bus during clashes between Thai soldiers and anti-government protesters near Lumphini park in Bangkok's financial district.
A man stands in front of burning bus during clashes between Thai soldiers and anti-government protesters near Lumphini park in Bangkok's financial district.
Thai protests
THAI PROTESTS: An anti-government protestor runs past tyres set on fire by red shirt supporters trying to block army soldiers from advancing along Rama IV road in Bangkok.
Thailand protests
BANGKOK CLASHES: Anti-government red shirt protestors create a burning barricade on Rama IV road to stop army soldiers from advancing in Bangkok.
An anti-government "red shirt" supporter aims his slingshot at army soldiers, as his intoxicated comrade lies against a barricade made out of tires, at Rama IV Street in Bangkok.
An anti-government "red shirt" supporter aims his slingshot at army soldiers, as his intoxicated comrade lies against a barricade made out of tires, at Rama IV Street in Bangkok.
An anti-government "red shirt" supporter walks in front of burning tires during clashes with Thai army soldiers at Rama IV Street in Bangkok.
BANGKOK PROTEST: An anti-government red shirt supporter walks in front of burning tyres during clashes with Thai army soldiers at Rama IV Street in Bangkok.
Anti-government "red shirt" supporters use firework rockets to shoot at Thai army soldiers during clashes at Rama IV Street in Bangkok.
Anti-government "red shirt" supporters use firework rockets to shoot at Thai army soldiers during clashes at Rama IV Street in Bangkok.
Red shirts
PROTESTS CONTINUE: Anti-government red shirt supporters pile tyres next to another barricade set ablaze between army soldiers and protesters in Bangkok.
Thai soldiers
CIVIL UNREST: Soldiers take position during clashes with anti-government red shirt protesters in Bangkok.
Thailand
FINAL CRACKDOWN: Thai soldiers take up positions in front of anti-government protesters' encampment.
Thailand
SMOKE: Firemen douse a fire at a barricade of Lumpini Park put up by anti-government protesters in downtown Bangkok.
Thailand
READY FOR CRACKDOWN: Thai soldiers take cover behind an APC near an anti-government barricade in Bangkok.
Thailand
UNDER SIEGE: Thai troops opened fire into the fortified encampment of anti-government protesters in downtown Bangkok, ramming armored vehicles into its tire-and-bamboo barricade in what appears to be a final crackdown after a week of deadly clashes.
Thai troops
ANGER ON THE STREETS: Fire fighters spray water on a burning barricade during a military operation to evict anti-government protesters from their encampment in Bangkok.
Smoke
DISSENT: Smoke rises from burning tyres near a hospital during a rally by anti-government "red shirt" protesters in Bangkok.
Thailand
INJURED: Anti-government 'red shirt' supporters carry a man, who was shot by army soldiers, to safety after clashes at a check-point in Bangkok.
Thailand
LOUDSPEAKER: An anti-government protester shouts at soldiers in Bangkok.
Thailand
LINES DRAWN: An anti-government protester, part of a group that guards a barricade, stands next to burning tires near the Victory monument in Bangkok.
BURNING: A journalist watches smoke rise from burning tyres near a hospital during a rally by anti-government "red shirt" protesters in Bangkok.
WATCHING TENSION BURN: A journalist watches smoke rise from burning tyres near a hospital during a rally by anti-government "red shirt" protesters in Bangkok.
TAKING AIM AT THE BARRICADE: A Thai army soldier aims his weapon during an operation to evict anti-government "red shirt" protesters from their encampment in Bangkok.
TAKING AIM AT THE BARRICADE: A Thai army soldier aims his weapon during an operation to evict anti-government "red shirt" protesters from their encampment in Bangkok.
HEADING FOR COVER: Thai army soldiers run past an armoured vehicle and barricades during an operation to evict anti-government "red shirt" protesters from their encampment in Bangkok.
HEADING FOR COVER: Thai army soldiers run past an armoured vehicle and barricades during an operation to evict anti-government "red shirt" protesters from their encampment in Bangkok.
CLEAN UP: Firefighters spray water at the Center One shopping mall building, left, which was set on fire by anti-government "red shirt" protesters in Bangkok.
CLEAN UP: Firefighters spray water at the Center One shopping mall building, left, which was set on fire by anti-government "red shirt" protesters in Bangkok.
EVICTED: Two "red shirt" protesters walk past Thai policemen after they abandoned a temple in Bangkok.
EVICTED: Two "red shirt" protesters walk past Thai policemen after they abandoned a temple in Bangkok.
SALVAGING: Shopkeepers carry their stock near a shopping mall building which was set on fire by anti-government "red shirt" protesters in Bangkok.
SALVAGING: Shopkeepers carry their stock near a shopping mall building which was set on fire by anti-government "red shirt" protesters in Bangkok.

Thai authorities restored order in Bangkok after a night of rioting and fires that veered towards anarchy as troops took control of an encampment occupied by thousands of anti-government protesters for six weeks.

Protesters had deserted their once-barricaded 3 sq-km stretch in central Bangkok. Hundreds who had taken refuge in a temple were coaxed out by police with loudspeakers urging them to go home. Six bodies were found inside.

Troops had faced heavy resitance overnight by several protesters with guns at the temple in a standoff that a government spokesman described as organised by terrorists.

"This was organised violence," he said.

Fires at 39 sites still simmered but most had been extinguished. Central World, Southeast Asia's second-biggest department store, was mostly destroyed, many of its steel beams had collapsed and its windows shattered.

The mostly rural and urban protesters' tented encampment in the heart of Bangkok's commercial district - an area lined with luxury hotels and shopping plazas - was strewn with rubbish, clothing and the smell of refuse and human waste. Troops roamed the area and some were positioned on an overhead subway system.

There were no signs of clashes as reporters walked freely through the area on Thursday morning

Some soldiers fired into the air as they approached the temple overnight, but "red shirt" protesters offered no resistance. Many walked, heads bowed, past lines of police and troops as they left the temple to be bused home.

The surrender of key protest leaders on Wednesday and a seeming end for now to violence that has killed at least 50 people and wounded nearly 400 in six days could put the focus back on early elections and a "reconciliation roadmap" the prime minister had proposed before the latest bout of violence.

But a night curfew imposed on Wednesday in Bangkok and 23 provinces was extended for another three nights, raising questions of whether the government feared more trouble at a time when Thais remain deeply polarised.

"The crisis of the past few weeks has ... only deepened the divisions within Thailand, which will sustain political tensions and lead to opportunistic political attacks," said Roberto Herrera-Lim, Asia director of the New York-based Eurasia Group.

'WOUNDED HEARTS AND MINDS'

"We can immediately fix the roads but we do not know how long it will take to fix the wounded hearts and minds of the people," Bangkok Governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra told local television.

The red shirts want fresh elections, saying Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva lacks a proper mandate after coming to power in a controversial parliamentary vote in 2006 with tacit military support. Abhisit last week withdrew an offer of fresh elections.

The unrest has severely hit Thailand's tourism industry, a key employment sector. Passengers at the main Bangkok airport have been halved to 60,000-70,000 daily and daily flights have been cut to 600 from 750, state Thai News Agency reported.

One of the fires also badly damaged the stock exchange.

The market will be closed on Thursday and Friday and the Bank of Thailand said banks around the country would also stay shut. The whole week has been declared a public holiday in an effort to keep people out of central Bangkok.

Television channels have been ordered to only air sanctioned programmes, broadcasting images of bulldozers pushed aside tyre and bamboo barricades as workers in trucks, under the protection of troops, cleaned up the protest camp site.

A single red shirt flag in the rubble flew limply in the morning breeze until it was crushed by a bulldozer.

Authorities imposed the curfew on 24 provinces - about a third of the total - after outbursts of unrest in seven regions, particularly in the north, a "red shirt" stronghold. Town halls were set ablaze in three northern areas.

The protesters are mostly drawn from the rural and urban poor and largely back former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist tycoon who was ousted in a 2006 coup and now lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a jail term for graft.

They started demonstrating in mid-March, demanding that the government step down and new elections be held. More than 70 people have been killed and nearly 2,000 wounded since then.

Thaksin said the crackdown could spawn guerrilla warfare.

Early this month, Abhisit offered an election in November, just over a year before he needed to call one, but talks foundered and that offer is now off the table.

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Reuters