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Dozens Injured As Thai Troops Move Against Protesters

Supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra face off with Thai soldiers on April 10
(RFE/RL) -- Dozens of people have been injured in battles that broke out in Bangkok as Thai security forces cracked down on anti-government protesters on April 13.

The clashes marked a major escalation in the ongoing protests that have roiled this southeastern Asian nation.

Thai soldiers fired into the air and threw tear gas to clear antigovernment protesters blocking roads in Bangkok. At least 70 people were reported injured in the clashes, most of them in a pre-dawn confrontation in which the demonstrators hurled stones and petrol bombs.

The demonstrators are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, saying his four-month-old government came to power illegally.

Just before midnight, Abhisit appeared on television, appealing to the demonstrators to return to their homes.

"The government has a tight plan to control the areas which are in trouble and will try to ease the situation as soon as possible,” Abhisit said. “If anyone still wants to stage a protest, they are allowed to do that in a peaceful way and without any weapons, which is allowed by the constitution."

Despite a state of emergency that bans gatherings of more than five people, police said the protesters were controlling many streets in Bangkok and blocking several key intersections.

On April 11, protesters forced authorities to scrap a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and evacuate foreign leaders.

Pre-summit street protests by supporters of the ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in the capital over the past week drew up to 100,000 people.

France, Britain, Australia, and the United States are among countries that issued travel warnings for Thailand on April 13 in the face of the growing antigovernment protests.

In a television address in English, government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn called for calm and assured citizens and foreigners that everything was under control.

"We would like to reassure you, Thai citizens and foreign nationals, that the emergency decree is designed to protect your safety and your security,” Panitan said. “In the next few hours, several security measures will be established and are being established as we are speaking to secure our major ports, airports, and infrastructure for your own safety."

Abhisit was elected in a parliamentary vote in December after the previous pro-Thaksin government was dissolved by a court decision that found the administration guilty of election fraud.

Thaksin, who addressed his supporters on April 12 by telephone from self-imposed exile abroad, called for a "revolution.”

April 13 marks the start of a three-day celebration of the Thai New Year. Reports say many people have already left the capital for the provinces.