Thai commandos stormed a Bangkok hotel yesterday where leaders of the “Red Shirt” protest movement were holed up, but the mission ended in dramatic failure after the suspects managed to flee.
One leading Red Shirt climbed down an electric cable from the third floor of the hotel before being rushed away by jubilant supporters, despite the presence of dozens of riot police nearby.
The bungled attempt to arrest several Red Shirt leaders came days after the army tried in vain to clear an area of the capital of anti-government demonstrators in an operation that sparked the country’s deadliest civil unrest in 18 years.
As special forces surrounded the SC Park Hotel, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban announced to the nation in a televised address that the authorities were swooping on “terrorists” and their leaders hiding inside the building.
However, the government later admitted the mission had failed and the red-clad movement said all of their leaders had escaped, vowing to turn up the heat on Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.
“Police kicked the door open and threw smoke and stun grenades into the room, but luckily I ran to the window and used an electric cord to climb down,” Red Shirt leader Arisman Pongruangrong said.
“Now our mission is to hunt down Abhisit and Suthep. Our patience is at its limit,” he said at the main rally stage in the heart of the Thai capital.
The Reds say the area will be the scene of the “final round” in their fight to overthrow the government.
The authorities urged thousands of protesters massed in the district to leave the area, warning that they were ready to take “decisive measures” following last weekend’s clashes that left 23 people dead.
Elsewhere in the capital, thousands of pink-clad pro-government demonstrators rallied outside the army base where Abhisit was based, calling on the authorities to take action against the Reds.
Arrest warrants have been issued for many of the Red Shirt leaders, including Arisman, who was involved in the storming of parliament earlier this month.
The mostly poor and rural red-clad supporters of fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra have staged mass rallies for a month, charging that the government is illegitimate because it came to power in 2008 after a court ousted Thaksin’s allies from power.
Two police officers were taken by the protesters from the hotel to the rally site and briefly interrogated by Red Shirts, but they later told reporters that they had not been taken hostage, but wanted to ensure Arisman’s safety.