BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai “red shirt” protesters ruled out negotiations with the government on Sunday and said they would not give up their fight for early elections a day after clashes with security forces killed 21 people.
Bangkok was quiet, but with no resolution in sight and the prospect of more violence, the stock market, one of Asia’s most buoyant, is likely to be hit when trading starts on Monday.
“The time for negotiation is up. We don’t negotiate with murderers,” red shirt leader Weng Tojirakarn said.
The red shirts, mostly rural and working-class supporters of ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted in a coup in 2006, want Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolve parliament and leave the country, the scene of 18 coups since 1932.
Saturday’s fighting, the worst political violence in the country since 1992 with some of it taking place in well-known tourist areas, ended after security forces pulled back late in the night.
The red shirts, still numbering in the thousands, have occupied two main areas of the capital, a city of 15 million that has been under a state of emergency since Wednesday. They made no attempt to come out of their bases on Sunday and troops did not make any move towards them.
Thaksin, writing on his Twitter account (twitter.com/Thaksinlive), accused the government of "bringing troops from all over the country" to crush the protests.
Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thausuban vowed to return order to the streets, although he conceded that troops would not be able to take control immediately after the damage suffered in Saturday’s clashes.
“The government will continue the operation to take back the roads from the protesters because their occupation is unlawful,” Suthep told reporters on Sunday.
Thai political historian Charnvit Kasertsiri said the lack of an outright winner in Saturday’s clashes meant the chance of more fighting was high.
“The public didn’t take it lying down and were responding in kind,” he said. “When the government is no longer the only user of force, then it spirals into anarchy.”
Foreign investors have been ploughing money into Thai stocks this year, boosting the market by 7.5 percent, but the outbreak of violence since the middle of last week caused them to pause. The stock market is open on Monday but closed from Tuesday to Thursday for the Thai New Year.
“Tourism will be the very first sector to be hit and the Thai stock market should react negatively on Monday. The heavy foreign buying we have seen in the past month will hold back until the political situation is clearer,” said Kasem Prunratanamala, head of research at CIMB Securities (Thailand).
There was tension outside Bangkok as well.
Thai media said around 500 red shirts again forced their way into the grounds of a Thaicom satellite earth station north of Bangkok, a flashpoint on Friday when the authorities blocked an opposition TV station.
Other reports said an M79 grenade was fired at the headquarters of the army-owned Channel 5 TV station in the northern province of Phayao early on Sunday.
On Saturday, hundreds of protesters forced their way into government offices in two northern cities, raising the risk of a wider uprising against the 16-month-old, army-backed government.
“There is no precedent for something so massive, prolonged and disruptive on the part of the underclasses,” said Federico Ferrara, a political science professor at the National University of Singapore.
The protesters say Abhisit lacks a popular mandate after coming to power in a 2008 parliamentary vote following a court ruling that dissolved a pro-Thaksin ruling party. Thaksin’s allies would be well-placed to win fresh elections.
Thaksin, who was elected twice but has been in self-imposed exile since 2008 when he was sentenced to jail for graft, was despised by many of the Bangkok elite but remains popular with the poor for policies like cheap health care and microcredit grants to villages.
More than 870 people were wounded on Saturday as troops fired rubber bullets and tear gas at thousands of demonstrators, who fought back with guns, grenades and petrol bombs near the Phan Fah bridge and Rajdumnoen Road in Bangkok’s old quarter, one of the two bases for the month-old protest.
Four soldiers were among those killed.
Abhisit expressed regret to the families of the victims and said the army was only allowed to use live bullets when “firing into the air and in self-defence.”
Among those killed was Reuters TV cameraman Hiro Muramoto, a 43-year-old Japanese national. Japan’s Foreign Ministry urged the Thai government to investigate Muramoto’s death.
Additional reporting by Damir Sagolj, Warapan Worasart, Viparat Jantraprap and Jason Szep in Bangkok, Kevin Krolicki in Tokyo; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by David Chance and Michael Roddy