Anti-government protesters gather in a Thai shopping district
via CAAI News Media
Friday, 16 April 2010
An anti-government protest leader staged a dramatic escape from a hotel surrounded by police on Friday, scaling down a rope ladder and dashing into a getaway car after the government vowed to hunt down "terrorists" responsible for deadly clashes with troops
Arisman Pongruanrong scaled down the facade of the hotel in downtown Bangkok into a waiting crowd of Red Shirt supporters who then helped him into a car that drove away. A second protest leader was seen climbing out of a hotel window and down a tree. It was not immediately clear if he escaped.
Arisman's escape was a major embarrassment to the government. Minutes earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban announced on national television that a unit of special forces had encircled the SC Park Hotel in the Thai capital where Arisman and other "Red Shirt" protests leaders were holed up.
"As I speak, a special force unit has been sent to SC Park Hotel, where some of these terrorists and leaders are staying."
The crackdown signalled the government was willing to risk another confrontation with the anti-government protesters who are campaigning to oust Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, a dissolution of Parliament and new elections.
Thousands of Red Shirts, mostly rural poor, have congregated in Bangkok since March 12. They occupied two areas, one of which troops tried to clear last weekend, leading to clashes that left 24 people dead and more than 800 injured.
The Red Shirts withdrew from that area on Thursday and consolidated their forces at their second encampment in Rajaprasong, the main business and hotel district of Bangkok.
Suthep said there were "clear terrorist elements within the demonstration ... the terrorists within the demonstrators used war weapons.
"I would like to ask innocent protesters to leave the demonstration area, in order to avoid being used as human shields," Suthep said. "The government from now on would like to carry out decisive legal measures against the Red Shirt leaders. We're worried that the terrorists would intentionally harm protesters to create chaos and incite unrest," he said, adding that the government is co-ordinating with various security agencies to arrest the Red Shirt leaders.
The crisis has deeply divided this Southeast Asian nation into colour-coded factions, threatening to sink an economy that had recently started to revive. The Red Shirts are bitterly opposed by the Yellow Shirts who support the government but have over the past few months stayed on the sidelines.