Anti-government protesters in Bangkok have defied the government orders to leave their camp in the Thai capital. The protesters, many of them women, continued to clap and cheer speakers on stage in the center of their vast camp as a deadline passed. Soldiers have been shooting live rounds to keep protesters at a distance as one government minister said the operation to “seal the area” would continue. Violence since Thursday has left 36 dead, and some 250 injured.
Protesters roaming the lawless streets of a strategically important neighborhood near the protest zone threatened to set fire to a gasoline truck as bonfires, some from piles of tires, sent large plumes of black, acrid smoke into the sky.
One of those killed was the renegade Thai general Khattiya Sawasdipol, who died on Monday five days after being shot in the head. The general, who was better known as Seh Daeng (Commander Red), was hit from a distance by an unidentified attacker as he spoke to reporters about his backing for the protest movement. The red-shirts say a military sniper carried out the attack, an accusation the government has denied.
The government has demanded an end to protests and rioting before any talks with opponents seeking immediate elections. It had given an estimated 5,000 people hunkered down in the sprawling protest area until 08:00 GMT to leave or face criminal charges. That deadline went by without incident at the main encampment, but fighting continued on the periphery east and north of the area, which troops were struggling to seal off.
A government official, Korbsak Sabhavasu, said late Monday that a protest leader had called him to discuss an end to the standoff, a development that offered a glimmer of hope that the violence might subside. The Associated Press reported that Mr. Korbsak said he had told the protest leader that the army would stop shooting if protesters returned to their base in the city.
But there have been many false starts in recent weeks, making a resolution to the crisis far from imminent. After their plea for a ceasefire and U.N.-moderated talks was dismissed by the government on Sunday, protest leaders said on Monday they would accept talks as long as a neutral arbiter took part and troops withdrew.