BANGKOK: Thai protesters on Wednesday ruled out negotiations with the government despite fears of a looming crackdown, saying talks were "out of the question" after bloody clashes earlier this month.
Earlier, there were reports that Thailand's "Red Shirt" protesters had shown their willingness for talks with the government fearing a crackdown. On Wednesday, the protesters had fortified their rally base with home-made barricades, saying they were braced for a "brutal" crackdown on their anti-government campaign.
Entrances to the vast encampment, which has engulfed Bangkok's upscale retail district, were blocked with barriers made from bamboo poles and car tyres draped with plastic sheeting.
Piles of sharpened bamboo sticks and broken paving stones have been stockpiled, triggering fears of new confrontations with the security forces, which have warned they will respond with tear gas and live weapons fire.
Tensions got high after April 10 clashes, sparked by a failed attempt to dislodge the protesters, which left 25 people dead and 800 wounded in Thailand's worst civil unrest in nearly two decades.
Red leaders denied allegations they are hoarding weapons, and hit out at army warnings that troops are authorised to use lethal force against them if necessary. "The government is subtly preparing for a brutal crackdown on us. Please stop trying to find a reason to kill innocent people," said senior Red figure Nattawut Saikuar. "Anyone with common sense can see that we cannot fight against assault rifles like M16s armed only with sharpened bamboo," he said. "We are not terrorists but have come here empty-handed to call for democracy."
Protesters were forced on Tuesday to cancel plans to march from their base to the nearby Silom financial district after thousands of troops descended with assault weapons and razor wire to secure the area.
Hundreds of members of the security forces and Red Shirts are now facing off at the perimeter of the two zones, separated by a long stretch of the makeshift barricade. Protesters waved flags, played music and rallied the crowd in speeches broadcast over large speakers, while overhead armed troops patrolled from pedestrian walkways screened off with black netting.
The Reds have said they are focused on bolstering numbers at their rally camp, which stretches along four kilometres (2.5 miles) of some of Bangkok's major thoroughfares, ahead of an offensive they expect before next Monday.
Besieged shopping centres and hotels have been forced to close amid the mayhem, worsening the damage to the economy of the tourist paradise and its reputation as the "land of smiles".
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is defying calls to quit and call fresh elections, has said the government is determined to rout the Red Shirts and did not rule out the prospect of martial law being declared. "Security officials are not complacent, we will take quick action and do it to the best of our ability.
The government does not want to see protracted protests but it's not easy as they are armed," he said Monday. The army has adopted new gloves-off rhetoric towards the demonstrators, who have been staging rolling protests in the capital since mid-March against a government they condemn as illegitimate and army-backed.
Army spokesman Colonel Sunsern Kaewkumnerd, who has warned they would face tear gas and then "decisive action" with live fire in any fresh clashes, insisted that a weapons arsenal was being stockpiled behind protest lines.
He also said that another 54 alleged Reds supporters have been summoned by authorities, and that the 31 people from an earlier batch of 52 called in for questioning who have failed to report to police now face arrest. Sunsern said the new group summoned were mainly community radio operators, taxi drivers, motorcycle taxi drivers and Red Shirt guards.
The protesters are mainly supporters of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and is living in exile to avoid a jail sentence for corruption. The Reds, who draw much of their support from the rural poor, say Abhisit's government is undemocratic because it came to power in a parliamentary vote after a court ruling removed Thaksin's allies from office.
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