BANGKOK — Antigovernment unrest boiling over in downtown Bangkok spread to other areas of the capital and Thailand as the military defended its use of force in a crackdown that has left 36 people dead in four days. The leaders flatly rejected protesters' demands that the United Nations intercede to end the chaos.
Rapid gunfire and explosions echoed before dawn today. On Sunday, towering plumes of black smoke hung over city streets where protesters set fire to tires, fired homemade rockets and threw gasoline bombs at soldiers who used rubber bullets and live ammunition to pick off rioters who approached their lines.
Leaders of the protesters, who have dubbed themselves Red Shirts, said they wanted talks mediated by the United Nations, provided the government agreed to an immediate cease-fire and pulled its troops back.
Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn, however, said a pause was unnecessary since troops were "not using weapons to crack down on civilians." The government maintains it is targeting only armed "terrorists" among the demonstrators.
Authorities insisted they would continue the crackdown aimed at choking off the Red Shirts, who have occupied a 1-square-mile protest zone — barricaded by tires and bamboo spikes — in one of Bangkok's ritziest areas since early April. The protesters are demanding that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva resign immediately, dissolve Parliament and call new elections.
There were also reports of scattered unrest outside the capital. A military bus was burned in the northern city of Chiang Mai and protesters demonstrated in the northeastern towns of Nongkhai and Udon Thani to defy the government's state of emergency, which bans gatherings of more than five people.
The decree, which gives the army broad powers to restore order, was extended to 22 of Thailand's 75 provinces, up from 17.
According to government figures, 65 people have died and more than 1,600 have been wounded since the Red Shirts began their protests in March. The toll includes 36 killed, most of them civilians, and 255 wounded since Thursday.