- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 28, 2010

BANGKOK | Thai protesters forced a shutdown of Bangkok’s busy elevated train system Tuesday and vowed to expand their street demonstrations, escalating weeks of anti-government demonstrations that have paralyzed much of the capital.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said he hoped to resolve the standoff peacefully even as the government canceled garbage collection in the barricaded encampment in the city’s commercial district that thousands of protesters have occupied since last month.

With many Thais losing patience, the government has yet to outline a clear plan on how to end the sporadically violent crisis after calling off negotiations with the protesters, who consider the government illegitimate and want parliament disbanded.

“We recognize that as every day passes by, the people of Thailand suffer, the country suffers, but we want to make sure that there is rule of law,” Mr. Abhisit told CNN. “We will try to enforce the law with minimum losses and we will try to find a political resolution, but it takes time, patience and cooperation.”

At least 26 people have been killed and nearly 1,000 wounded since protesters known as the Red Shirts began occupying parts of Bangkok in mid-March, closing down five-star hotels and shopping malls and devastating the country’s vital tourism industry.

The Red Shirts have since fortified their stronghold by erecting barricades of tires, bamboo sticks and fencing along the streets. Inside their camp, thousands of supporters huddle under broad tents, eating curry and ice cream dished out from pots on the back of trucks and listening to their leaders’ speeches on a network of speakers that stretches nearly a mile.

The area, which already reeks of garbage and urine, could become far filthier. Bangkok’s deputy governor, Pornthep Techapaiboon, has ordered a halt to trash collection there until the Red Shirts — who briefly blocked an intersection with stolen garbage trucks — promise to stop interfering with sanitation workers.

Red Shirts have set up barricades on roads leading to the capital in recent days to prevent police reinforcements from being sent to assist in a possible crackdown.

Before sunrise Tuesday, protesters entered a downtown Skytrain station and placed 30 tires on the platform, prompting authorities to suspend service for four hours, the Bangkok Mass Transit System said. Authorities restarted the trains after the morning rush hour, but closed the stations after dark amid fears of violence.

Red Shirt leader Nattawut Saikua said his group raided the station after hearing that soldiers would use the trains to send reinforcements to their main protest site. He also said the Red Shirts planned to spread out into other parts of the city Wednesday, sending teams with speaker trucks to distribute leaflets and video CDs explaining their side of the story.

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