BANGKOK – BANGKOK (AP) — Anger among Bangkok residents mounted Thursday against anti-government protesters who have entrenched themselves in the capital's commercial district, causing the closure of hotels and offices and disrupting incomes.
A loose coalition opposed to the so-called Red Shirts, who are demanding that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolve Parliament and call new elections immediately, planned a mass rally Friday, further splitting the city into hostile camps.
They also were preparing further confrontations with the protesters across an intersection adjacent to their "occupation zone" where angry residents Wednesday night scuffled with Red Shirts and shouted "Give back our city" and "Hillbillies, get out."
The anti-Red Shirt group includes office employees, middle class families, academics, some low-wage workers and members of the Yellow Shirts, a group that supports the current government and who themselves rampaged through Bangkok and seized the city's airports two years ago.
Thailand's tense political crisis also spread from Bangkok to the northeast, as anti-government demonstrators blocked a train carrying military vehicles that they claimed would be used to suppress fellow protesters in the capital.
In Bangkok, a failed April 10 attempt by security forces to flush protesters from their first encampment erupted into the worst political violence Thailand has seen in 18 years, with 25 people dead and more than 800 wounded.
The protesters consist mainly of poor rural supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and pro-democracy activists who opposed the military coup that ousted him in 2006 after months of demonstrations by the Yellow Shirts.
The Red Shirts believe Abhisit's government is illegitimate because it came to power under military pressure through a parliamentary vote after disputed court rulings ousted two elected pro-Thaksin governments.
Speculation is rife the government is set to forcibly remove the Red Shirts from the blocks of central Bangkok they've occupied for weeks. Soldiers in full combat gear have been stationed in the business district's main street to block the protesters from entering it.
Early Thursday, helicopters were seen flying high above the protest site, but their purpose was not clear. Protesters shot fireworks at them.
Adding to the tension, several hundred pro-government protesters gathered late Wednesday across from the Red Shirts, shouting, jeering and throwing rocks and bottles at them.
They squared off just yards (meters) apart from their rivals as security forces watched. Several people suffered minor injuries and at least one was detained by police.
"This demonstration has been going on too long. I know we are all Thais, but these people from rural provinces aren't losing their jobs. I have," said Waraporn Intongma, a cleaner who works at one of the shopping malls closed because of the protests.
Some city residents showed their support for the soldiers, offering them food and water. One company was planning to hand out 20 cases of deoderant to troops patrolling a key road under the sweltering sun and without laundry facilities.
The Red Shirts fortified their encampment Wednesday with tire barricades and homemade weapons including bamboo spears and wooden shields, while soldiers and riot police stood warily nearby.
In the province of Khon Kaen, 241 miles (388 kilometers) northeast of Bangkok, some 400 to 500 Red Shirts blocked a train carrying military vehicles, said police Lt. Col. Thanarat Meethonglang.
No violence was reported and provincial officials were negotiating with the protesters to allow the train to pass.
The Thai Rath newspaper website cited a protest leader saying the Red Shirts intercepted the train after learning its cargo would be used to suppress the demonstrations in Bangkok — an assertion denied by authorities.
Prospects for a peaceful solution to the political crisis appear slim. Negotiations were apparently taking place, however.
"The attempt to negotiate has been ongoing, but the official talks can't proceed as long as the demonstration remains unlawful," said government spokesman Panitan Wattanyagorn.
"The situation has changed now that violence has occurred and terrorism has been involved," he said, referring to the April 10 clash, in which masked gunmen returned soldiers' fire with assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades.
Hotels and retailers in the protest zone, which spans about 1.8 square miles (3 square kilometers) say the rallies have cost tens of millions of dollars in losses. Several five-star hotels closed for the week and relocated guests to safer hotels.
Upscale shopping malls in the middle of the protest have been shut for weeks.
Associated Press writers Jocelyn Gecker, Grant Peck and Thanyarat Doksone contributed to this report.