Anti-government protesters stand in front of their makeshift barricade to stop police getting inside Lumpini park, in Bangkok, Thailand, 14 May 2010

Anti-government protesters stand in front of their makeshift barricade to stop police getting inside Lumpini park, in Bangkok, Thailand, 14 May 2010

By Ron Corben for VOA News

Fresh violence erupted Friday in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, as security forces continued efforts to drive anti-government protesters from their encampment in the city’s main commercial district.  Overnight skirmishes left at least one person dead and dozens wounded.  The government has extended an emergency decree to 15 other provinces in a bid to prevent more protesters traveling to the capital.

Thailand security forces advanced on the so-called Red Shirts’ outpost early Friday, firing teargas at the anti-government protesters.  Witnesses say some Red Shirts set fire to an empty police bus before fleeing the scene.

Gunshots were heard in the area throughout the night and into the morning, and one building has taken several hits by shells.  Businesses and several foreign embassies located in the upscale district have been closed and evacuated.

Thai security forces have deployed up to 30,000 troops backed by armored personnel carriers as part of an operation to disperse protesters rallying in central Bangkok for the past two months.

Overnight the government overnight extended a state of emergency to 15 other provinces to prevent additional Red Shirt supporters from joining the rally.

Mass transit and and other transport systems were disrupted Friday with cancellations of services or stations within the affected zone closed.

The protests at the Rajprasong commercial and retail area since early April have forced the closure of hundreds of shops, leading to millions of dollars in revenues losses and thousands of jobs at stake.

On Silom Road, largely empty to traffic and closed off in sections, troops were on standby. Ms. Fah, a resident of Silom, backs the presence of the armed forces.

Ms. Fah says the Thai people love their soldiers and are happy to have troops in the area, as well as loving the country’s monarch.

Key Red Shirt leaders said Friday they would press on with the rally in defiance of a crackdown and are calling for supporters to gather at another venue in Bangkok.

The venue, at Rajadamneon Avenue, was the scene of clashes in April between protesters and security forces that left more than 20 people dead and more than 850 others injured.

But divisions have been reported within the Red Shirt leadership, with some core leaders looking to end the rally after initially welcoming a reconciliation plan offering new elections in November. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is said to have withdrawn the early election date.

Thailand is facing its most severe bout of political instability in almost 20 years.

Many protesters support former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a coup in 2006. Mr. Thaksin was accused by the urban middle class of corruption and abuse of power. But the former leader, who lives outside the country, still commands support among the urban and rural poor through previous populist policies while in power.

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