Thai PM delays speech after botched arrests
Bangkok: Thai anti-government protest leaders evaded capture on Friday in a botched police raid as Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva unexpectedly delayed his first address to the nation in four days.
Government promises to crack down on what it termed "terrorists" went awry when a protest leader at a hotel in Bangkok slid down a rope from a balcony to escape riot police.
Another two were rescued by hundreds of "red shirts”, who heavily outnumbered security forces at a Bangkok hotel owned by the family of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
The leaders later joined around 10,000 of their supporters at a hotel and shopping centre in the middle of the city, now the main protest encampment in the Thai capital.
"If they use force to disperse us, we will flatten the entire neighbourhood," said Jatuporn Prompan, a protest leader who was not among the three escapees, on a red shirt stage.
Abhisit had been scheduled to address national television at 1 pm local (2 am EDT), from an Army barracks where he has been holed up during the month-long protests, but by 4 pm he had not done so and his aides could not provide a reason.
He has been absent from the public eye since Monday.
The government, which had previously said it would not directly confront the protesters, has also stepped up the rhetoric, although no troops were seen on the streets of Bangkok.
"We will arrest and suppress the terrorists. We have set up special task forces hunting for the terrorists," Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said before launching the attempt to snatch opposition leaders.
The move against the red shirt leaders on Friday follows a failed attempt by troops to eject protesters from one of their sit-in sites in the city last weekend.
At least 24 people were killed and more than 800 injured in the clash, Thailand`s worst political violence since 1992, which only appears to have hardened the four-year political impasse and raised the possibility of more bloodshed.
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