Thai 'Red Shirts' cornered as army stifles dissent

Thai 'Red Shirts' cornered as army stifles dissent
Soldiers detain a protester against military rule, at a shopping district in central Bangkok.

BANGKOK - With leaders rounded up and soldiers deployed in their rural heartlands, Thailand's "Red Shirts" have gone to ground but experts say they will regroup against the military's toppling of the government they helped elect.

The red-clad street protest movement, established in the wake of a 2006 coup to rally support for ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, has warned that the kingdom's long-running political conflict could descend into civil war.

The Red Shirts say they have been hit hard by a crackdown since army chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha deposed the Thaksin-allied government last Thursday and seized wide-ranging powers.

Several activists told AFP they have been hemmed in by a big army presence, detentions and closures of influential local radio stations used to spread their pro-Thaksin message.

"There are no leaders," said Aporn Sarakham, a former senator and the wife of Kwanchai Pripana, a hardline Red Shirt from northeastern Thailand detained by the army on Friday.

The movement's hierarchy - from the firebrand protest leaders to local village heads - are being held or harassed or have gone to ground to avoid detention.

"The Red Shirts do not know what to do... we have to wait and see what the army does and what our leaders in other provinces and districts say," Amnuay Boontee, a Red Shirt co-ordinator in Buriram province, told AFP by telephone.

Phone lines have also been cut, according to the activists. Calls by AFP to several other leading Red Shirts could not be connected.

"In our hearts we are against the coup but people are scared. All of our leaders are detained," said a Red Shirt leader requesting anonymity.

"People are sitting and talking about it, but things are quiet."

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