May 18, 2010 2:33:19 am
Chaotic gunbattles in Bangkok marked a new phase of the citys spiraling violence on Monday as residents hoarded food and the government warned protesters that they should leave their encampment or risk harmful consequences.
Protesters roaming the lawless streets of a strategically important neighbourhood near the protest zone threatened to set fire to a gasoline truck as bonfires,some sent large plumes of black smoke into the sky.
Security forces armed with assault rifles were deployed in greater numbers across the city after many firefights,including a nighttime grenade attack on the five-star Dusit Thani hotel,a landmark in the city.
The attack and a subsequent prolonged gunbattle suggested that Thai security forces were up against more than just protesters with slingshots and bamboo staves.
Government official Korbsak Sabhavasu said late on Monday that the Army would stop shooting if protesters returned to their base.
The attack on the Dusit Thani hotel in the early hours of Monday may have been a retaliatory move by a faction loyal to Khattiya Sawatdiphol,a renegade Major General allied with the protesters who was shot on Thursday. Security experts speculate that Gen Khattiya,who died on Monday,was shot by a sniper stationed at the hotel,which has served as a base for hundreds of security personnel members in recent weeks.
Government statistics said that 34 civilians and two soldiers including Gen Khattiya had been killed since Thursday,and 256 people been wounded,almost all of them civilians.
The Foreign Ministry explained in a memo distributed on Monday that the sharpshooters had been deployed to look out for danger and protect others.
Army aircraft circled above the site dropping leaflets urging people to leave. Guards in black with red scarves escorted people who chose to leave.
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