Protesters disrupt Bangkok elevated trains

Protesters broke into an elevated rail station and threw tires on the platform Tuesday in their campaign to force immediate elections.

Updated: Apr 27, 2010, 10:26 AM IST

Bangkok: Protesters broke into an elevated rail station and threw tires on the platform Tuesday in their campaign to force immediate elections, prompting authorities to briefly suspend service and send army troops to guard the train stops.
The four-hour closure coincided with morning rush hour, causing commuter chaos and concern in the tense capital at the sight of hundreds of soldiers armed with automatic weapons guarding stations and scattered along major Bangkok boulevards.

Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said security forces were deployed to "provide security and safety for the public" at Skytrain stations and on highways leading to Bangkok, after protesters tried to block incoming soldiers and police.

By midmorning, Skytrain service had resumed but fears of more violence intensified.

At least 26 people have been killed and nearly 1,000 wounded since anti-government protesters known as the Red Shirts began occupying parts of Bangkok in mid-March, closing down five-star hotels and shopping malls and devastating the country`s vital tourism industry.

Overnight, hundreds of protesters tried to block police and soldiers who were driving into Bangkok from the northern suburbs to bolster security forces in the capital. Protesters boarded trucks loaded with barricades and hurled them out, others let air out of the tires of official vehicles.

Before sunrise Tuesday, a group of Red Shirt guards entered the downtown Chidlom station of the Skytrain, which is adjacent to the main protest site, and placed 30 tires on the platform, the Bangkok Mass Transit System said in a statement.

"For passengers safety, the company shut down operations," the statement said, adding that authorities were sent to negotiate with protesters, who agreed to remove the tires. "After a security check, the company resumed services at all stations."

Trains, however, would stop running at 8 p.m. instead of the usual service until midnight, the statement said.

Protesters are demanding that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolve Parliament and call fresh elections.

The government has repeatedly said it hopes to resolve the political crisis peacefully, despite a breakdown in negotiations, but says it will not allow the protests to go on indefinitely or let the protesters occupy more areas of the capital.

Many Red Shirt supporters around and outside the capital tried Monday to prevent police reinforcements from moving into Bangkok.

In at least six places around the country, Red Shirt supporters scattered nails along roads, set up checkpoints and searched vans and buses for police officers headed to the capital.

Some police heading to Bangkok were forced to return to their bases, while police in the central province of Phitsanulok, impatient after a five-hour standoff with the Red Shirts, broke through a cordon of protesters who hurled rocks and wooden sticks at them, Thai media reported.

Panitan said that some of the troop movement Tuesday was intended to prevent protesters from blocking security forces. He said it was not a crackdown aimed at clearing protesters from the shopping boulevard.

"We are not looking at a major sweep but we are trying to relieve the public and open up certain locations for the public to use and for officers to travel," he said.

"We are trying to make sure that demonstrators do not spread out and try to block major communication links or systems," he said, adding that "Security forces will go to several major highways to make sure highways remain open."

Bureau Report