Thailand's tense political crisis spilled over from Bangkok to the northeast Wednesday, as anti-government demonstrators blocked a train carrying military vehicles that they claimed would be used to suppress fellow protesters in the capital.
The confrontation came as the "Red Shirt" protesters and security forces remained locked in a potentially explosive standoff in downtown Bangkok. The determined demonstrators are demanding Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolve Parliament and call new elections immediately.
A failed April 10 attempt by security forces to flush protesters from another location erupted into the worst political violence Thailand has seen in 18 years, leaving 25 people dead and more than 800 wounded.
The protesters consist mainly of poor rural supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and pro-democracy activists who opposed the military coup that ousted him in 2006.
The Red Shirts believe Abhisit's government is illegitimate because it came to power through a parliamentary vote — not a general election — after disputed court rulings ousted two elected pro-Thaksin governments.
Fear camp will be cleared
Speculation is rife the government is set to forcibly remove the Red Shirts, who are encamped just outside the capital's central business district. Soldiers in full combat gear have garrisoned the main street leading to the area, blocking the protesters who threatened to march down it.
Adding to the tension, several hundred pro-government protesters have gathered across from the Red Shirts, shouting, jeering and throwing rocks and bottles at them.
The Red Shirts fortified their encampment Wednesday with tire barricades and homemade weapons including bamboo spears and wooden shields, while soldiers and riot police stood guard nearby.
In the province of Khon Kaen, 241 miles (388 kilometers) northeast of Bangkok, some 400 to 500 Red Shirts blocked a train carrying military vehicles, said police Lt. Col. Thanarat Meethonglang.
No violence was reported. Provincial officials were negotiating with the protesters to allow the train to pass.
The Thai Rath newspaper website cited a protest leader, Sabina Zar, as saying the Red Shirts intercepted the train after learning its cargo would be used to suppress the demonstrations in Bangkok — an assertion denied by authorities.
Zar said the train may be blocked until the situation in the capital is resolved.
Prospects for a peaceful solution to the political crisis appear slim.
Fuel depot attacked
Unknown attackers fired one or two rocket-propelled grenades at a fuel depot near Bangkok's main airport early Wednesday, starting a small fire that was put out before causing serious damage.
Negotiations between the two sides were apparently taking place, however.
"The attempt to negotiate has been ongoing, but the official talks can't proceed as long as the demonstration remains unlawful," said government spokesman Panitan Wattanyagorn. "The situation has changed now that violence has occurred and terrorism has been involved."
Key protest leader Nattawut Saikua earlier indicated the demonstrators were open to negotiations to end the confrontations and chaos in the city, which is taking a serious toll on the economy, as well as residents' patience.
"Our group is always open to outside suggestions. Whatever group wants to propose a solution to the crisis, we're happy to hear these solutions," Nattawut said.
Hotels and retailers in the protest zone, which spans about 1.8 square miles (3 square kilometers) say the rallies have cost tens of millions of dollars in losses. Several five-star hotels in the area have announced they will be closed for the rest of the week and have relocated guests to safer hotels.
Upscale shopping malls situated in the middle of the protest have been shut for weeks.