Image: Firemen try to extinguish fire at a shopping mall near anti-government "red shirt" protesters' abandoned stage in central Bangkok
Damir Sagolj  /  Reuters
Firefighters try to extinguish a fire at a shopping mall in central Bangkok on Thursday.
By
updated 5/20/2010 2:27:20 PM ET 2010-05-20T18:27:20

As soldiers mopped up pockets of resistance and the government declared it was back in control, fears grew Thursday that the tentative quiet restored to Thailand's capital after a bloody crackdown on protests may just be a respite from violence and political polarization that could continue for years.

Leaders of the anti-government Red Shirt movement vowed a return as they were taken into custody.

"I think this is a new beginning for the Red Shirts," said Kevin Hewison, a Thailand expert at the University of North Carolina. "It will be a darker and grimmer time of struggle and less-focused activities. By no stretch of the imagination is the movement finished."

The Thai government declared Thursday it had mostly quelled 10 weeks of violent protests in the capital as buildings smoldered, troops rooted out die-hard holdouts and some residents cautiously attempted a return to normal life a day after a military operation cleared the main commercial district of thousands of demonstrators, leaving 15 dead and nearly 100 injured.

Troops roamed the city on foot and in Humvees and exchanged gunfire with scattered Red Shirt holdouts, who fought near the city's Victory Monument and torched a bank, bringing to 40 the number of buildings set aflame after the military push sent the protesters retreating from their demonstration site.

The protesters, demanding elections, had fortified themselves behind tire-and-bamboo-spike barricades.

Thailand's finance ministry estimated the economic damage to the country at 50 billion baht ($1.5 billion). Continued security concerns led officials to extend a nighttime curfew in Bangkok and 23 other provinces for three more days.

Even so, army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd said the government was in charge.

"Overall, we have the situation under control," he said.

Residents, meanwhile, moved carefully to resume their routines.

Cleaning up
With military checkpoints closing, city workers removed debris and collected piles of garbage left in the streets. Residents in protest areas were able to leave home to shop. Electricity was restored in many areas.

But many of those who ventured into the streets were still deeply shaken by the violence. Video: Protesters burn buildings in Bangkok

"This really worries me — this shouldn't happen to Thailand," said Somjit Suksumrain, a construction company manager. "Thailand should not end up like this."

By late Thursday, authorities had taken into custody most of the senior Red Shirt leaders.

Three surrendered Thursday after five others gave themselves up the previous day and were flown to a military camp south of Bangkok for interrogation.

"I'd like to ask all sides to calm down and talk with each other in a peaceful manner," Veera Musikapong said after being taken into custody Thursday. "We cannot create democracy with anger."

Not all were as conciliatory.

Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, another Red Shirt leader, said the movement was simply regrouping.

"Initially, independent movements of the masses in Bangkok and the regions will begin, then riots will ensue," he said. "For Thailand in the long term, there will be major changes due to the crisis of faith."

Demand for new elections
The government described the mayhem as organized terrorism. Officials also said the arson and looting after the troops quashed the main protest were "anticipated aftershocks" that did not represent deeper trouble.

Still, government spokesman Panithan Wattanayagorn acknowledged the protesters had sympathizers among the broader populace, and said the rioting was sparked by disappointment, hopelessness and anger. But he said it was only as large as it was because of "prior organized planning."

The Red Shirts had demanded the ouster of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's government and new elections. The protesters, many of them poor farmers or members of the urban underclass, say Abhisit came to power illegitimately and is oblivious to their plight.

Analysts said Abhisit was under increased pressure to hold early elections.

"Abhisit still has to hold elections by next year, and he could be under pressure still to do it earlier, by his original November offer," said Paul Handley, the author of a biography of Thailand's king. "Thailand still needs to hit this reset button. ... Even if Abhisit's government is technically legal, the Reds' widespread perception that it is illegitimate remains."

The crackdown should silence the large number of government supporters who were urging a harder line, and the rioting that followed may extinguish some of the widespread sympathy for the protesters' cause.

But the government's failure to secure areas of the capital raised doubts about its ability to calm unrest in the protesters' heartland of the north and northeast.

The role of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra also remains a question mark.

He was ousted in a 2006 military coup and fled into exile before being sentenced to two years in prison for corruption and many Red Shirts want him back. The government has accused him of bankrolling the protests and refuses to make any deals with him until he serves his sentence.

"It is a dark day for Thailand's battered democracy," Thaksin said in a statement distributed by his Canadian lawyer. "There are questions about my relationship with the Red Shirt movement, and many untrue accusations."

But he added that he "will continue to morally support the heroic effort" of the movement.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Protests in Thailand

loading photos...
  1. A firefighter works to control the fire that burned all night at the CentralWorld shopping mall on Thursday, May 20. The mall was one of more than two dozen buildings set ablaze by protesters. Operations the day before evicted the protesters after a six week takeover of Bangkok's major shopping district. A curfew remains in effect for three more days in an attempt to quell the violence. (Paula Bronstein / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Protesters walk to government provided buses to bring them back to their home provinces on Thursday. Gunfire still crackled as troops moved to hunt down protesters who went on a rampage after a deadly crackdown on their camp Wednesday. Thousands of protesters who had sought refuge in a Buddhist temple had surrendered earlier to police. (Mast Irham / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A woman cries as she leans over the dead body of a protester killed in a gunbattle the day before at a Buddhist temple which had been turned into a shelter. (Christophe Archambault / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. An anti-government protester piles tires on a fire at a shopping center on Wednesday, May 19 in Bangkok, Thailand. Anti-government protest leaders in Thailand surrendered to police on Wednesday after troops stormed their encampment, sparking clashes that killed at least six people and injured 60. (Wally Santana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

    A Thai soldier aims his rifle next to the dead body of a redshirt protester during an attack on the red shirt camp on May 19 in Bangkok. (Paula Bronstein / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Thai Red Shirt protest leader Jatuporn Prompan, center, announces their surrender inside the protesters' camp in downtown Bangkok on May 19. (Pornchai Kittiwongsakul / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red Shirt protesters weep as their leaders tell them that their protest must end. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Men walk in the deserted protest camp after the leaders of the Red Shirt movement announced their surrender in downtown Bangkok on May 19. (Bay Ismoyo / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Anti-government protesters raise arms and walk to Thai soldiers as they leave their encampment to be transported home. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Red Shirt protesters use a table to shield themselves as they drag a wounded comrade to medics after he was shot by Thai military forces on May 19 in Bangkok. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. An armored vehicle moves through barricades near the business district of Silom Road on Wednesday, May 19. The Thai army stormed a vast protest site in downtown Bangkok, smashing barricades and clashing with demonstrators. The ongoing clashes between troops and thousands of "Red Shirt" anti-government protesters since May 13 has left dozens dead and injured hundreds. (Ahmad Yusni / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A Thai Red Shirt protester runs beside a shop set ablaze a few hours before the leaders of the movement announced their surrender on Wednesday. (Bay Ismoyo / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Smoke rises above the Bangkok skyline following a crackdown by Thai Army soldiers on the Red Shirt anti-government protesters' camp on Wednesday. A curfew is to be imposed across Bangkok at night, Defense Minister General Prawit Wongsuwon said, after a military offensive against anti-government protesters in the capital. (Paula Bronstein / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An injured Thai soldier is carried away near a barricade on Wednesday. (Vincent Yu / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Two Buddhist monks are detained by Thai soldiers inside the protesters' camp on Wednesday. (Manan Vatsyayana / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. The bodies of anti-government protesters lie covered on a street on Wednesday. (Wong Maye-E / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A soldier mans a weapon on an armoured vehicle during an operation to evict anti-government Red Shirt protesters from their encampment in Bangkok on Wednesday. (Damir Sagolj / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. An unidentified photographer ducks under bullets during clashes on Wednesday. Freelance photographer Fabio Polenghi, 45, is reportedly among at least five people killed on Wednesday and a Canadian journalist was seriously wounded in a grenade blast during the onging clashes. (Chinafotopress / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Buddhist monks carry an injured Red Shirt anti-government protester in downtown Bangkok on Wednesday. (Nicolas Asfouri / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Red Shirt protesters carry a wounded comrade in downtown Bangkok on Wednesday. (Nicolas Asfouri / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Thai troops and armored vehicles take positions on a road at the entrance of the business district during a rally by anti-government red shirt protesters. (Damir Sagolj / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Khattiya Sawasdipol cries and holds up a cap of her father, Maj. Gen. Khattiya Sawasdipol, at a hospital in Bangkok on May 17. Sawasdipol, a rogue soldier and de facto military chief of Thailand's Red Shirt protest movement, died on Monday after being shot in the head on Thursday in an incident that sparked Bangkok's latest spate of violence. (Sukree Sukplang / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. A young girl carries a medical kit being handed out to anti-government Red Shirt supporters encamped in Bangkok's upscale shopping district on May 17. Thai protesters ignored calls by the government to leave their central Bangkok camp on Monday as troops tightened a security cordon around the area, raising fears of fresh bloodshed. At least 37 people died in the last five days of fighting. (Jerry Lampen / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Thai police officers remove a road block at the edge of Bangkok's victory monument intersection on May 17. (Wally Santana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. An anti-government protester throws a tire toward a burned truck in central Bangkok on May 16. (Athit Perawongmetha / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Tires set on fire by anti-government protesters leave a trail of smoke in Bangkok, Thailand, on Sunday, May 16. Thai authorities said they plan to impose curfew in parts of Bangkok that have been wracked by clashes between Red Shirt protesters and the army. (Manish Swarup / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Anti-government supporters carry a man who was shot in the head during clashes with army soldiers in Bangkok on May 16. (Adrees Latif / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Anti-government protesters grieve after another supporter was killed during clashes with soldiers in Bangkok on May 16. (Adrees Latif / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Anti-government protesters make Molotov cocktails near Victory Monument in Bangkok on May 16. (Udo Weitz / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Carrying a gun, a man takes cover behind a tire barricade during a confrontation between anti-government protesters and Thai soldiers in Bangkok on May 16. (Wason Wanichakorn / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. A young Thai takes cover on a Bangkok street as shots are fired on May 16. The government blockaded the area around Ratchaprasong, Bangkok‘s upmarket commercial district, to force the protesters out but hard-line leaders refused to move. (Barbara Walton / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Anti-government supporters stand in a cloud of smoke from a barricade of tires set ablaze near Bangkok's Victory Monument on May 16. (Adrees Latif / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Anti-government protestors create a burning barricade on Rama IV road in Bangkok to stop soldiers from advancing on Saturday, May 15. Thai troops fired at protesters in a third day of fighting on Bangkok's streets. (Adrees Latif / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. An anti-government protester uses a slingshot to fire a firecracker at Thai military forces during street clashes as the violence in central Bangkok. (Andy Nelson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Thai soldiers sleep in a normally bustling beer restaurant, in Bangkok on May 15. (Barbara Walton / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

    Protesters shout for medical assistance as they run with a wounded colleague who was among at least three who were shot in the head as they faced off with Thai military officers on May 15. (Barbara Walton / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. A relative of Boonting Parnsira, 24, mourns at Rama Hospital as the violence in central part of the city escalates on May 15 in Bangkok, Thailand. (Paula Bronstein / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. A demonstrator kicks a burning tire during clashes with security forces in Bangkok on May 15. (Pedro Ugarte / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Soldiers escort an anti-government protester. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. A tire burns as soldiers clash with anti-government protesters in Bangkok's financial district on Friday, May 14. (Sukree Sukplang / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Protesters fire homemade rockets at soldiers in an area near Lumpini Park on May 14. Rioting near the U.S. and Japanese embassies turned central Bangkok into a virtual war zone. (Wason Waintchakorn / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Soldiers fire rubber bullets into a crowd of protesters hurling rocks on May 14. Protesters were holding their ground as initial government attempts to blockade them showed no results, but instead set off sporadic violence that left one man dead and a high profile Red Shirt militant in critical condition from a gun shot to the head. (Wally Santana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Demonstrators are arrested by soldiers in downtown Bangkok on May 14. (Vincent Yu / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Red Shirt protesters carry a man, who was shot during clashes with army soldiers, to safety past a destroyed vehicle near Lumpini Park on May 14. (Adrees Latif / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. As shots rang out, a Thai policeman takes cover on May 13. (Pedro Ugarte / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. Major General Khattiya Sawasdipo, a controversial Red Shirt leader, is carried by supporters after being shot in the head at their fortified camp in Bangkok on May 13. Thai . Sawasdipol died on Monday May 17, hospital officials have said. (Pedro Ugarte / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. Major-General Khattiya Sawasdipol during a patrol around the demonstrator's camp on Tuesday, May 11. Khattiya helped construct the barricades and protect it with his supporters. Sawasdipol died Monday May 17, four days after being shot in the head during heavy riots, hospital officials have said. (Pedro Ugarte / AFP - Getty Images file) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Protesters take part in rally inside their fortified camp in downtown Bangkok on May 11. (Pedro Ugarte / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. Anti-government protesters react to speeches as leaders discuss the reconciliation process at Bangkok's main shopping district on May 4. (Athit Perawongmetha / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. Relatives of Police Cpl. Karnnuphat Lertchanpen, a traffic police officer, mourn his death at the Institute of Forensic Police General Hospital on May 8. Two Thai policemen died in attacks near the Red Shirt site in downtown Bangkok, which may put the government reconciliation attempt at risk. (Athit Perawongmetha / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  51. Anti-government protesters shift their barricade to allow access to Chulalongkorn Hospital in Bangkok on Friday, April 30. The 'Red Shirt' protesters searched the hospital, located near the barricades, the night before in a move widely condemned by Thais. Much of central Bangkok's commercial district has been closed down by the protests now in their seventh week. (Athit Perawongmetha / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  52. Nurses makes phone calls and arrange paperwork to coordinate the transfer of patients from Chulalongkorn Hospital to another one in Bangkok on Friday. Chulalongkorn Hospital evacuated most of its patients after protesters stormed in with the mistaken belief that troops were hiding there. (Pedro Ugarte / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  53. Soldiers open fire at anti-government protesters during clashes on a highway in Bangkok, Thailand, on Wednesday, April 28. Troops stopped a caravan of ‘Red Shirt’ demonstrators heading from the capital to a neighboring province by setting up road barriers and firing over and into the crowds. It was not immediately clear if the soldiers were using live ammunition or rubber bullets. The mostly rural and urban poor Red Shirts back ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a 2006 coup, and say the current government led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva came to power illegitimately with tacit military backing. (Rungroj Yongrit / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  54. An injured protester is helped back through the barricades into the Red Shirt-occupied Ratchaprasong district on Wednesday. At least 16 protesters were wounded in the clashes. (Barbara Walton / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  55. A wounded soldier, who later succumbed to his injuries and died, is carried on a stretcher during clashes with anti-government protesters on the outskirts of Bangkok on Wednesday. (Wason Wanichakorn / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  56. A suspected anti-government protester is arrested by a policeman during the crackdown.. (Rungroj Yongrit / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  57. Protesters fire homemade rockets at soldiers on a highway in Bangkok on Wednesday. (Ahmad Yusni / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  58. Soldiers face off against protesters. (Paula Bronstein / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  59. Red Shirt protesters carry Thai national flags and red flags in a motorcycle convoy on their way to the northern suburbs of Bangkok. (Sukree Sukplang / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  60. A woman wearing a T-shirt with a picture of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra stands near other anti-government protesters lining up to get a Red Shirt identity cards inside their barricade in Bangkok on April 27. (Eric Gaillard / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  61. Pro-government protesters carry a huge national flag during a rally at Victory Monument in Bangkok on April 26. () Back to slideshow navigation
  62. Anti-government Red Shirt supporters block a military truck to defend their base in Bangkok amid fears of crackdown early April 27. (Chaiwat Subprasom / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  63. Anti-government protesters confront police in front of a makeshift barricade on April 23. Security forces and demonstrators faced-off at a major intersection after grenade attacks rattled Thailand's chaotic capital. (Sakchai Lalit / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  64. A Thai woman lies injured on the ground after several small explosions hit near a Red Shirt encampment on Thursday, April 22. A series of grenade blasts shook the district, wounding dozens and heightening tensions during a showdown between thousands of troops and anti-government protesters. The cause of the blasts was not immediately known. (Vincent Yu / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  65. Buddhist Monks pray at the Red Shirt camp at the entrance of Silom Road, Bangkok's financial district, on April 22. (Luis Ascui / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  66. Injured Thais attempt to flee after several explosions on April 22. Witnesses said the first of the explosions occurred at an elevated train station. (Vincent Yu / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  67. Anti-government demonstrators look on from behind a makeshift barricade on April 21. Thailand's Prime Minister has said he is ready to negotiate with protesters seeking a change of government, but only when the demonstrators who have illegally occupied the city’s streets agree to abide by the law, his spokesman said. (David Longstreath / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  68. Workers pass soldiers deployed to protect the banking and business district of Silom as anti-government Red Shirt protesters camped nearby threaten to march there on Monday, April 19. (Rungroj Yongrit / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  69. Tourists walk next to barbed wire along Silom Road in Bangkok's financial district on April 19. (Pornchai Kittiwongsakul / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  70. Government supporters rally at Bangkok's Victory Monument on April 17. (Luis Ascui / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  71. One of the Red Shirt anti-government leaders, Arisman Pongruengrong, center, is helped to climb out of a hotel and escape a police raid on Friday, April 16. (Rungroj Yongrit / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  72. Red Shirts gather during a memorial for the victims of clashes between protesters and Thai security forces near Democracy Monument on April 11. (Athit Perawongmetha / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  73. Anti-government Red Shirt protesters clash with security forces in central Bangkok on April 10. At least 15 people were killed and hundreds wounded in the confrontations. The protesters were calling for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to dissolve parliament and immediately hold elections for a new government. (Damir Sagolj / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  74. Red-shirted supporters of former Thai Premier Thaksin Shinawatra face off with Thai riot police officers in central Bangkok on April 10. (Nicolas Asfouri / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  75. Red Shirt protesters battle with soldiers in central Bangkok. () Back to slideshow navigation
  76. Anti-government demonstrators wash tear gas from the eyes of a colleague. (Wason Waintchakorn / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  77. Protesters show bullets and empty shells that they say were collected after a clash with soldiers near the United Nations building in Bangkok on April 10. (Kim Kyung-hoon / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  78. Demonstrators beat a Thai soldier during a clash in Bangkok on on April 10. (Sakchai Lalit / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  79. Soldiers confront demonstrators in Bangkok on April 10. The city's elevated mass transit system known as the Skytrain, which runs past one of the protest sites, closed all its stations as confrontation loomed. (David Longstreath / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  80. Soldiers carry an injured comrade during clashes with anti-government protesters on April 10. (Chaiwat Subprasom / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  81. Soldiers recover between clashes with anti-government protesters in central Bangkok on April 10. (Damir Sagolj / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  82. Red Shirts wave at a police motorcade leaving the protest site in central Bangkok on April 10, 2010. (Natthawat Wongrat / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments