Thai authorities launch media clampdown to quell unrest | world | Hindustan Times
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Thai authorities launch media clampdown to quell unrest

Thailand's government on Thursday shut down dozens of websites and a television channel loyal to "Red Shirt" protesters who have occupied Bangkok's commercial hub, defying a state of emergency.

world Updated: Apr 09, 2010 01:29 IST

Thailand's government on Thursday shut down dozens of websites and a television channel loyal to "Red Shirt" protesters who have occupied Bangkok's commercial hub, defying a state of emergency.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is under increasing pressure to end the mass anti-government rallies, which have disrupted traffic and caused major shopping centres to close.

Thai stocks slumped more than three percent on Thursday on fears of a protracted bout of political turmoil.

Abhisit cancelled his attendance at a Southeast Asian summit in Hanoi, where fellow premiers expressed concern about Thailand's deep political rift, which pits Bangkok's ruling elite against the mainly poor and rural Reds.

Leaders of the tens of thousands of supporters of ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a 2006 military coup, have refused to halt their protests but the authorities have avoided using force to break up the rallies.

Instead, they targeted media loyal to the red-clad movement, shutting down its satellite TV channel showing rolling coverage of the demonstrations, along with 36 websites, and vowing to clamp down on pro-Red radio stations.

The government accused the Reds' TV of distorting information and inciting unrest, warning that the next step would be a ban on the use of loudspeakers at the protest site, where there was an angry response.

"The government wrongly thinks that cutting the signal will stop Reds from gathering," said protest leader Nattawut Saikuar.

"We give final word to the government to connect our signal within today, otherwise people will fight for their rights."
Thaksin's fans, mainly from the poor rural north, hail his policies for the masses such as cheap healthcare, but Bangkok's
powerful elite sees him as corrupt, authoritarian and a threat to the revered monarchy.

But with their main tool for mobilising the rank-and-file down, the Reds face a test on Friday, when they have promised another major rally.

The army said the number of demonstrators in the commercial district had dwindled after the TV channel was yanked from the air.

"With a small number of protesters, it will be more acceptable for the public in the case of the government enforcing
hasher measures," military spokesman Sunsern Kaewkumnerd said.

The Reds say the government is illegitimate because it came to power with army backing through a parliamentary vote in December 2008 after a court decision ousted Thaksin's allies from power.

Abhisit's government has banned public gatherings of more than five people and given broad powers to police and military under emergency rule announced Wednesday in the capital and surrounding areas.

Tensions have escalated after the Reds forced their way into the parliamentary compound briefly on Wednesday, prompting lawmakers to flee and several senior government figures to be airlifted to safety.

The head office of the Reds' arch-rivals, the royalist "Yellow Shirts," was targeted on Thursday with a grenade and gunfire that wounded one policeman, a day after a grenade was reportedly fired into the army headquarters.

The government wants to avoid a repeat of last April's clashes with Red Shirts that left two people dead, six months after riot police took on the rival Yellow Shirts in bloody scenes outside parliament.

"We will not seek confrontation. We do not want to create conditions for instability," said government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn. "At the same time we would like to proceed further with the implementation of the law."

Under emergency rule, "now officers can destroy the cars that block intersections and they will not have to pay for it," he told reporters.