"Red Shirt" anti-government protesters stand holding bamboo sticks and stones at their fortified camp near the Silom road intersection in the financial district of central Bangkok. AFP photo.
Governments around the world appealed for dialogue to resolve the escalating crisis in Thailand and warned their citizens to avoid Bangkok after deadly violence paralysed the city centre Friday.
From Washington to London, Singapore to Jakarta, governments joined the UN in urging all sides to show restraint as riot police faced off against thousands of anti-government "Red Shirts" behind heavily fortified barricades.
"We appeal to both the protesters and the Thai authorities to avoid further violence and loss of life and to work to resolve the situation peacefully through dialogue," UN spokesman Martin Nesirky told a press briefing. "This is a moment that requires restraint on all sides."
Nesirky said U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon was "very concerned about the continuing standoff and tension in Thailand and the potential for this to escalate." Tensions in the long-running political standoff rose after five grenade blasts hit the area on Thursday night, leaving one Thai woman dead and scores wounded, including foreigners.
The army has warned of a crackdown to try to disperse the "Red Shirts," who charge that the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is illegitimate and are demanding immediate elections. The Reds began mass anti-government rallies in Bangkok in mid-March that degenerated into fierce clashes with security forces on April 10, leaving 25 dead and more than 800 injured.
U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley called on both the protesters and the Thai security forces to show restraint. "The United States firmly believes that both sides can and should work out disagreements peacefully through earnest negotiation," Crowley said. "Violence is not an acceptable means of resolving political differences."
The State Department told its citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Bangkok, saying: "The possibility of more such attacks cannot be ruled out." It also urged travelers to exercise caution in provincial areas, warning that protesters could spread to other parts of the kingdom if dispersed in the capital.
Across Europe and Asia, governments urged their citizens to stay away from the demonstrations, while Finland said it would move its embassy from the area to temporary premises. "There is a strong possibility of renewed violent clashes in Bangkok between demonstrators and security forces," Australia's foreign affairs department said, as it confirmed that an Australian was among the wounded Thursday.
Singapore and Indonesia, Thailand's fellow members in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, also voiced alarm about the deteriorating situation. An ASEAN summit in the Thai resort of Pattaya in April last year was scrapped after protesters stormed the venue, forcing leaders to be evacuated by helicopter.
"We hope that all Thais, irrespective of their political views, will set aside their differences in the overall interests of Thailand, eschew violence, and seek a peaceful, amicable and durable resolution," Singapore's foreign ministry said. "This is crucial not just for Thailand, but for ASEAN as a whole."
Indonesia Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa also expressed "deep concern" and said violence could not be condoned as a means to resolve differences. "Indonesia, therefore, calls upon all sides to exercise maximum restraint, and resolve differences through dialogue and negotiations in keeping with democratic principles and rule of law," Natalegawa said. "Indonesia stands ready to render any assistance to promote conditions conducive for such dialogue to take place."
French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero expressed concern over stern warnings by Thai army spokesman Sunsern Kaewkumnerd that force could be used in a crackdown against the anti-government protesters. "We reiterate our call to the authorities and protesters to act responsibly," Valero said. "It is more indispensable than ever for dialogue to prevail over confrontation."