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THAI PROTEST LEADERS SURRENDER, AS TROOPS STORM CAMP

By NBF News
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Leaders of the anti-government protests that have paralysed the heart of Bangkok for weeks have surrendered, after troops stormed their barricades.

At least five people have been killed in the latest gun battles in the Thai capital and the protest leaders said they did not want anyone else to die.

But some of the red-shirts vowed to fight on.
Clashes and fires were reported at several locations, including a blaze at a major shopping complex.

The Thai defence minister said a night-time curfew would be imposed across the capital.

Meanwhile, in the north-east of the country, protesters reportedly attacked city halls in Udon and Khon Kaen.

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I apologise to you all, but I don't want any more losses. I am devastated too

Reports from the scene in Bangkok said the main protest stage area was empty.

http://www.nigerianbestforum.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/47874708_009327094-1.jpg Four protest leaders were seen on TV arriving at police headquarters.

Before he was led away, Jatuporn Prompan said from the stage: “I apologise to you all, but I don't want any more losses. I am devastated too,” reports news agency Reuters.

Another leader, Nattawuk Saikua, also urged supporters to give up.

Before surrendering, the leaders urged supporters not to give up the fight for political change.

AT THE SCENE
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Alastair Leithead BBC News, Bangkok
The main area at the heart of the commercial district is completely deserted. This morning there were women dancing and people on stage giving speeches.

All those hundreds of people who were in this main part of the protest site have gone.

People have set fire to buildings. There's a lot of smoke over the city, burning piles of debris.

Someone just told us there were very emotional scenes when the leaders came and said, “it's all over”, and told people to go home.

But some hardline red-shirt protesters were holed up in an over-head railway station and they were clashing with the military.

Defiant protesters attacked shops and property and there were reports of looting.

Central World Plaza, a huge shopping mall in the heart of Bangkok's commercial district, was reported to be ablaze.

Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanyagorn told the BBC there were still pockets of resistance from the protesters' main site at the strategic Ratchaprasong intersection.

There are still groups of protesters facing troops at a key point to the south of the main camp.

Army spokesman Col Sansern Kaewkamnerd described them as “terrorist leaders”.

Another military spokesman said the operation had been hlted to allow several thousand protesters to leave the rally zone.

As helicopters circled overhead, Thai soldiers with armoured vehicles stormed the barricaded camp early on Wednesday.

The military warned of the imminent operation on loudspeakers, before moving in.

An Italian photojournalist was among the dead and dozens were wounded as demonstrators and army units exchanged fire.

“This is D-Day,” one soldier was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

Troops armed with M-16 rifles marched through the central business district, as thick black smoke from mountains of burning tyres billowed over skyscrapers.

They stormed the Lumpini Park area, where demonstrators fled, leaving smouldering fires, scattered shoes and overturned chairs.

The violence follows six days of clashes around the camp, triggered by a government operation to seal the area and the subsequent death of renegade general who backed the protests.

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Protests: Eyewitness account
Bangkok clashes: Map
About 40 people have been killed since last week.
The red-shirts have been protesting in Bangkok since 14 March, occupying the shopping district, forcing hotels and shops to close.

They are a loose coalition of left-wing activists, democracy campaigners and mainly rural supporters of Mr Thaksin, who has lived overseas since he was convicted of conflict of interest.

They are demanding fresh polls because they say the government – which came to power through a parliamentary deal rather than an election – is illegitimate.