The government’s failure to disperse the protesters from their encampments may have hardened the red shirts' position and deepened the crisis that is now the deadliest political violence in Thailand since 1992.
After the clashes, in which troops shot rubber bullets and used tear gas against protesters who threw homemade bombs and beat police with sticks, the security forces retreated, and asked the protesters to do the same, in an informal truce.
The leader of the protest movement, called Red Shirts for their clothing, said they would not talk with the government after Saturday’s deaths.
Jatuporn Prompan, a leader of the Red Shirt movement … said Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's hands were "bloodied."
"There is no more negotiation. Red Shirts will never negotiate with murderers," Jatuporn announced from a makeshift stage. "Although the road is rough and full of obstacles, it's our duty to honor the dead by bringing democracy to this country."
The Red Shirts support former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 coup.
They are demanding that Prime Minister Abhisit, who they claim was elected illegitimately, immediately dissolve the government and call new elections.
Abhisit, who declared a state of emergency Wednesday, has promised to do so by the end of the year, but in a television address Saturday evening he once again said he would not give in to protesters’ demands.
The Wall Street Journal reports that an army spokesman accused protesters of instigating the violence that took place Saturday, based on the weapons used, and said troops only fired live ammunition into the air, not into crowds.
Speaking Sunday afternoon, Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said much of the violence was caused by weapons that couldn't have belonged to the military, including AK-47s, bombs and certain types of tear gas that aren't used by Thailand's armed forces.
The Christian Science Monitor reported Friday that Abhisit’s hesitation in not moving forcefully to end the four-week protest has emboldened the protesters and raised questions about how much control he has over the military.
The high number of dead damages both sides, but analysts are wondering where the government can go from here.
"Mr Abhisit is under a lot of pressure," said Dr Amorn Wanichwiwatana, who teaches Thai politics at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.
"He is in a difficult situation - it is hard to see how he could step down splendidly," Dr Amorn said. It is also raises the prospect of a different kind of military action, he said.
"We have to allow for the possibility of a coup, or a silent coup," said Dr Amorn, adding that the military was not necessarily united behind the Abhisit government.