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Bangkok smolders day after crackdown on red-shirt protesters

Sporadic violence flared in Thailand Thursday as more red-shirt protesters left their camp in Bangkok, two more leaders surrendered, and a curfew was extended until Sunday.

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At the back of the temple, six corpses were laid out on a garden path beside a row of sculpted elephants. A medical official said that they had died of gunshot wounds. Some protesters claimed that unknown gunmen had fired Wednesday night into the temple grounds, possibly from an elevated walkway. But it was also possible that the victims died in the street outside.

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Amid the somber mood, one demonstrator was upbeat as he walked out into the morning sunshine. “For me, this is a win,” says Panya Rujeamsilp, a fish vendor from Bangkok, adding that the nonstop protest had drawn more attention to their cause.

Political options

The red shirts, known as the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), called for snap elections in Thailand, which has been roiled by political turmoil since 2006. An election is likely to return a government allied to Mr. Thaksin, the former premier.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva offered to dissolve parliament in late September, paving the way for a November election. But UDD leaders rejected the proposal, part of a reconciliation package. Mr. Abhisit, who must call elections by December 2011, hasn’t said if he would stick to this timetable after ordering the crackdown.

Duncan McCargo, an expert on Thailand at the University of Leeds, in England, says it is hard to imagine a quick return to parliamentary politics after the recent upheaval. But he warns that early elections may not end the crisis, as rival "yellow-shirt" protesters oppose any restoration of Thaksin’s influence.

“The big fear is that whoever wins the election will face some repetition of the 2008-2010 protest cycle, since neither red shirts nor yellow shirts will accept the legitimacy of the other's position,” he writes in an e-mail.

Security officials say the string of arson attacks was organized and that black-clad gunmen had stopped firefighters from tackling at least one blaze. In some attacks, looters also cleared out stores and bank ATMs.

Last month, Nattawut Saikua, a UDD leader, encouraged poor protesters to loot malls in the event of a crackdown. “When we are panicked, we will smash glass windows of these luxurious shopping malls and run amok inside,” he said, according to Human Rights Watch.

Kung, the protester at the temple, said he didn’t take part in any looting but had little sympathy for store owners. “People don’t have money. Do you understand?”

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