15 Mar 2010

Thai leader skips protesters in helicopter

9:56 pm on 15 March 2010

Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has rejected an ultimatum by tens of thousands of protesters to resign, before flying out of a besieged Bangkok army barracks in a Black Hawk helicopter.

Speaking for the first time since the so-called Red Shirt protesters demanded his resignation, Mr Abhisit said the cabinet had decided it would not call a snap election.

He then took the helicopter ride out of the capital's 11th Infantry Barracks as thousands of Red Shirts gathered outside.

The protesters, supporters of ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, have been calling for Mr Abhisit to stand down.

His flight came as the Thai military said two soldiers had been injured in a grenade attack at another barracks in Bangkok.

Thaksin supporters

The Red Shirts are mainly supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006, the BBC reports.

Many of the 100,000 protesters have come to the capital from Mr Thaksin's power base in the rural north of Thailand.

They are led by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, which says Mr Abhisit came to power illegitimately with the backing of the military and the Bangkok-based elites.

Tens of thousands of riot police and soldiers have been deployed outside Government House and other strategic points. The military has been given extra powers to impose curfews and restrict numbers at gatherings if necessary.

The last major protests, in April last year, turned violent, with two deaths and dozens of people injured.