Bangkok: Thousands of anti-government protesters were locked in a tense confrontation with troops Tuesday, as the UN urged Thailand to "step back from the brink" to avoid further loss of life.
Columns of smoke billowed over central Bangkok from piles of tyres set ablaze by the "Red Shirt" protesters, and an explosion boomed from the conflict zone where five days of violence have left 38 people dead and 279 wounded.
The Reds, who are campaigning for elections to replace the administration of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, are defying a Monday deadline to disperse from the shopping district they have occupied for two months.
A police spokesman said there were still about 5,000 protesters, including hundreds of women and children, at the fortified rally site and that at three other locations in the city groups of several hundred have gathered.
The capital`s two main train systems, the underground and the overhead monorail, were both closed for the fourth day in a row and schools and government offices have been shut to keep civilians off the streets.
Leaders of the protesters have offered the government a truce but are demanding that troops withdraw before they go to the negotiating table, while the authorities insist the protesters must first disperse.
"We call for a ceasefire and a troop withdrawal to stop this war," Reds leader Weng Tojirakarn reiterated Tuesday, rejecting government allegations that they were responsible for the shootings of several medics and journalists.