Thai Protesters Disperse Under Military Pressure, Leaders in Custody
By Daniel Schearf
14 April 2009

Thai protesters are dispersing after the military surrounded their main demonstration camp and four protest leaders turned themselves in to police.

Music played Tuesday across the main protest site outside government house. But, the mood was anything but festive as hundreds of red shirt protesters packed up their things and began leaving.

The protesters had occupied hundreds of tents and a main stage outside the compound, which houses the offices of Prime Minister Abhisit Vijjajiva.

They feel he came to power illegitimately and so they gathered by the thousands in Bangkok to try to force his government to resign. Many protesters leaving the demonstration were overcome with the feeling they had lost the fight for Thailand's democracy.

"Finished now, finished ... finished," cried a protester.

Thai anti-government protester leaves Government House through a line of soldiers in Bangkok, Thailand, 14 Apr 2009

As the military closed in, demonstrators were directed through rows of soldiers and riot police where their belongings were searched and their identities checked.

The protests started peacefully, but in the past few days became violent. In two days of street fighting, authorities say two people were killed and more than 120 injured.

Protesters armed with batons and firebombs burned buses and sent them rolling towards security forces.

Pineter Vuabatanakul, the director general of bus services for Bangkok's mass transit authority, was at the demonstration site to assess which damaged buses could still be repaired. He says 52 buses were seized by protesters and 20 of them were set on fire.

A bus burns in Bangkok which was set on fire during anti-government protests, 13 Apr 2009

"Several times in the past when we have a conflict in our society, the bus will be used like a weapon," he said.

Thailand has suffered political uncertainty and protests since the military in 2006 ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. He was supported by the red-shirt protesters, who saw his policies as favoring the country's poor.

The Thai government says almost all the roadblocks and burning tires erected by protesters have been cleared and the city is returning to normal.

The damage to Thailand's image, however, will take more time to repair. The instability has cost Thailand dearly in lost tourism dollars. Several countries have warned travelers to stay away from the popular holiday destination.