BANGKOK, Thailand — Thailand's leader defended the deadly army crackdown on protesters besieging the capital's heart, saying Saturday the country's very future was at stake. Protesters dragged away the bodies of three people from sidewalks — shot by army snipers, they claim — as soldiers blocked major roads and pinned up notices of a "Live Firing Zone."
"I insist that what we are doing is necessary," Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said in a defiant broadcast on national television, making it clear he would not compromise. "The government must move forward. We cannot retreat because we are doing things that will benefit the entire country."
On Saturday, the protesters launched a steady stream of rudimentary missiles at troops who fired back with live ammunition in several areas around a key commercial district of Bangkok.
Army snipers were perched with high-powered rifles atop tall buildings, viewing the action below through telescopic sights. Thick black smoke billowed from tires set ablaze by demonstrators as gunfire rang out.
At least 24 people have been killed and more than 194 wounded since Thursday.
The spiraling violence has raised concerns of sustained, widespread chaos in Thailand — a key U.S. ally and Southeast Asia's most popular tourist destination.
The U.S. Embassy said it will evacuate family members of its staff who want to leave Bangkok. Embassy spokeswoman Cynthia Brown said the State Department also issued a "travel warning advising all citizens to defer travel to Bangkok."