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Tensions rise in Thailand as protests propagate

BANGKOK — Thailand's tense political crisis spilled over from Bangkok to the northeast Wednesday, as antigovernment demonstrators blocked a train carrying military vehicles that they said would be used to suppress fellow protesters in the capital.

The confrontation came as the "Red Shirt" protesters and security forces remained locked in a potentially explosive standoff in downtown Bangkok. The determined demonstrators are demanding Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolve Parliament and call new elections immediately.

A failed April 10 attempt by security forces to flush protesters from another location erupted into the worst political violence Thailand has seen in 18 years, leaving 25 people dead and more than 800 wounded.

The protesters consist mainly of poor rural supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and prodemocracy activists who opposed the military coup that ousted him in 2006.

Speculation is rife the government is set to forcibly remove the Red Shirts, who are encamped in central Bangkok. Soldiers in full combat gear have been stationed in the business district's main street to block the protesters who threatened to march down it.

Early today, helicopters were seen flying high above the protest site, but it was not clear what they were doing. Protesters shot fireworks at them.

Adding to the tension, several hundred progovernment protesters gathered late Wednesday across from the Red Shirts, shouting, jeering and throwing rocks and bottles at them, AP Television footage showed.

Anti-Red Shirt demonstrators with flags and placards reading, "Give back our city," and "Yes to democracy! No to red terror," squared off just yards from their rivals as security forces looked on. Several people suffered minor injuries and at least one was detained by police.

The Red Shirts fortified their encampment Wednesday with tire barricades and homemade weapons including bamboo spears and wooden shields, while soldiers and riot police stood warily nearby.

Tensions rise in Thailand as protests propagate 04/21/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 21, 2010 11:11pm]
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