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Monday, May 17, 2010

Rogue Thailand general dead

Rogue Thailand general who backed protests dies.

Renegade Thai general Khattiya Sawasdipol, who was shot on Thursday as he backed protesters in Bangkok, has died, hospital officials have said.

The announcement came amid fresh fighting between the protesters and soldiers after Thai officials rejected a demand for UN-backed talks.

The government has called on protesters to leave the camp by 1500 (0800 GMT), saying the area is no longer safe.

Thirty-six people have been killed in the violence since Thursday.

Maj Gen Khattiya, known as Seh Daeng (Commander Red), was shot in the head on Thursday as he spoke to a New York Times journalist within the protesters' rally site.

He had been in a critical condition in hospital and had not been expected to pull through.

His shooting marked the beginning of clashes between soldiers and protesters that have raged on-and-off since then.

It is not clear who shot him, but some among the protesters were quick to blame army snipers.

A minute's silence was held for the general at the protesters' camp in the Ratchaprasong district, with some demonstrators in tears.

'A lot of shooting'

About 5,000 people remain in the encampment in Ratchaprasong, where food and water are running low amid a blockade on the area.

In a television announcement, the government told protesters - particularly women, children and the elderly - to leave the camp by mid-afternoon, or face the prospect of two years in jail.

The protesters have been offered free transport home, but there are conflicting reports over whether they are taking up the government's offer of safe passage.

Hundreds of women and children have sought refuge in a nearby temple.

The fresh fighting overnight along a street of upmarket hotels saw the first death among the soldiers, officials said.

Guests at one of the hotels, the Dusit Thani, were rushed from their rooms into the building's basement after gunfire and explosions shook the area.

"Everybody was evacuated from their room and spent the night in the basement," a photographer for the Reuters news agency said. "There was a lot of shooting."

Besides the deaths, about 200 people have been injured in the clashes. Previous violence since the protests began in March has left more than 60 people dead and at least 1,600 wounded.

The Dusit Thani hotel is across from Lumpini Park in a district of expensive hotels, embassies and shopping malls that has been taken over by the protesters.

Army sharpshooters behind sand-bagged barricades have been firing live rounds at protesters.

Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said troops were "not using weapons to crack down on civilians". He said armed "terrorists" among the protesters were being targeted.

The protesters, called red-shirts after the colour they have adopted, have been throwing stones, petrol bombs and fireworks at the soldiers and setting barricades of tyres on fire.

There have been reports that some among them are armed.

The latest fighting broke out after the government rejected a call from a red-shirt leader, Nattawut Saikua, to hold UN-moderated talks to end the stand-off, providing the army withdrew from the area around the red-shirt camp.

Panitan Wattanayagorn insisted that no outside help was needed, and said on Monday the government would consider talks with the protesters if they are "sincere" about peace.

"The government is ready to go forward with negotiation when the situation is defused, when the protest ends, violence ends and attacks on authorities end," he said.

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