Bangkok: The Thai Army said on Thursday it would step up efforts to stop anti-government protesters in Bangkok getting more weapons, a day after a soldier died in the latest clash in a seven-week campaign to force early elections.
The violence stoked fears of more unrest ahead which could sink consumer confidence in southeast Asia`s second largest economy. The central bank is due to release growth forecasts later on Thursday.
Another three months of protests could shave 0.64 of a percentage point off a 2010 economic growth forecast of 4.5 percent, according to government forecasters.
Tourism, a major industry that supports six percent of the economy and employs 15 percent of the workforce, is crumbling. Arrivals at Bangkok`s Suvarnabhumi Airport have fallen by a third since violence broke out.
Thailand`s stock market, an emerging market darling over February and March, has lost more than three percent in April against a 1.8 percent rise in Asian markets outside Japan.
On Wednesday, violence flared when a group of some 2,000 protesters moved out of the central shopping area they have occupied since April 03, heading to meet supporters in a northern suburb. Soldiers barred the way and fighting broke out on a crowded highway.
Soldiers fired live rounds into the charging protesters in the chaotic clash on a congested highway 40 km (25 miles) north of central Bangkok, witnesses said. Nineteen people were injured.
The red shirts hurled stones, shot metal balls from sling-shots and launched fireworks at the cordon of 450 soldiers.
Witnesses said the dead soldier was shot through his helmet while riding on a motorbike toward security forces, apparently caught in friendly fire. Another soldier was among the wounded.
The fighting finally stopped when a tropical rainstorm drenched the area.
No further violence
There was no further violence during the night after the protesters pulled back to the Rachaprasong shopping area and their numbers had dwindled to less than 1,000 by dawn.
The crowd tends to build up during the day, especially from late afternoon, and Army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said that troops at checkpoints on roads leading into the area would stop people bringing in weapons.