Thai curfew extended as cleanup begins

The Thai government says the situation is under control in Bangkok after Wednesday's military crackdown on a protest camp, but authorities have extended a dusk-to-dawn curfew until at least Saturday.

Curfew in effect in Bangkok, 23 provinces

The Thai government says the situation is under control in Bangkok after Wednesday's military crackdown on a protest camp, but authorities have extended a dusk-to-dawn curfew until at least Saturday.

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The curfew was imposed late Wednesday after security forces smashed through barricades and raided the fortified camp in central Bangkok, sparking riots as protesters fled the camp and scattered across the city.

The curfew, the first in Bangkok since 1992, is in effect in Bangkok and 23 other provinces.

A military spokesman said security forces have quashed the violent protests, but reports suggest small groups of protesters may still be holding out.

"There were some skirmishes this morning, some gunshots that we heard, though it was not as much as yesterday," the CBC's Michel Cormier said from Bangkok on Thursday.

Meanwhile, fire crews were working to extinguish several smouldering fires. Protesters set more than 30 fires Wednesday, devastating a number of prominent buildings, including a major shopping centre and government buildings.

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"I've been here in Thailand studying for the past three years. Yesterday has to have been one of the scariest times of my life,' Elaine Saulnier said from Bangkok. 

"In the morning, everything looked like it was going to be OK, but then, as my boyfriend and I watched the Thai news, we found out that the so-called Black Shirt (armed and dangerous) part of the Red Shirt protesters were coming down the main road (Rama 4) in our area, having already set the Channel 3 building on fire."

Saulnier and her boyfriend tried to leave the area, but residents motioned for them to go back.

"We slowly realized that our panicked attempt to flee might have actually harmed us. As we calmed down we could hear hovering helicopters every few minutes, and a few distant booms. It settled down as soon as the curfew began (at 8 o'clock). But since no one was out reporting, we felt completely out of touch and just more nervous.

"After waking up [Thursday] morning, it feels safer, and like the government is in control in Bangkok, despite more Red Shirts starting to light fires outside of the city. It was a scary experience, but now I hope that Bangkok can just rebuild."

Submitted by Elaine Saulnier

Col. Sansern Kawekamnerd, a Thai military official, said the fires and looting had been "systematically planned and organized" by Red Shirt leaders before they surrendered.

The government sent in crews Thursday to start cleaning up the debris clogging the streets near the crushed protest camp, while security forces started removing some military checkpoints in Bangkok. Many local residents started trickling into the streets for the first time in days to survey the wreckage.

At least 15 people were killed and more than 95 people — including a Canadian freelance journalist — were wounded during Wednesday's clashes between security forces and protesters.

Six bodies were found at a temple that had sheltered hundreds of protesters, but it was unclear when those people died.

Sansern defended the crackdown, saying the military had been restrained in its use of deadly force.

"If we had the intention to attack civilians, the death toll would have been much higher," he said.

More Red Shirt leaders arrested

A group of protesters who had been holed up in a Buddhist temple inside the protest zone surrendered to authorities Thursday, as did three more Red Shirt leaders — with one of them pleading for peace.

"I'd like to ask all sides to calm down and talk with each other in a peaceful manner. Please dissolve your anger. We cannot create democracy with anger," said Veera Musikapong after being taken into custody Wednesday.

It's not yet clear what the next step will be for protesters, but some anti-government activists predicted more upheavals lay ahead.

Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, a Red Shirt leader, said the movement would go on despite the day's events.

Firemen extinguish a blaze which gutted the Central World shopping mall in Bangkok's upscale shopping district. ((Adrees Latif/Reuters))

"This is not the end," he said. "It will spread further and the situation will deteriorate. Initially, independent mass movements in Bangkok and other provinces will begin, then riots will ensue. This will be done by individuals, not by protest leaders. The crowds will reunite soon."

Many Red Shirts are supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup.

They believe the current government came to power illegitimately and have been pushing Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to dissolve parliament and call a new election.

Unrest spreading

The unrest following the crackdown spread outside Bangkok, with Thai media reporting that protesters set fire to government offices in the city of Udon Thani and vandalized a city building in Khon Kaen. Udon Thani's governor asked the military to intervene.

Reporter's notebook

CBC journalists share their view of the battles in Bangkok in notes from the field.  

"The government is hoping to use the curfew to isolate these pockets of resistance even more, especially in Bangkok," Cormier said, but he noted that the curfew is not being respected in the country's north, where many Red Shirts come from.

"The major problem now may be up there and not in the capital," Cormier said.

TV reports also showed troops retreating after being attacked by mobs in Ubon Ratchathani, and more unrest was reported in the northern city of Chiang Mai, Thailand's third largest.

With files from The Associated Press