Thai authorities take "red shirt" TV off air again

BANGKOK, April 10 (Reuters) - An opposition TV station in Thailand was off the air on Saturday, a day after “red shirt” protesters had stormed a satellite earth station and forced the authorities to reverse an earlier decision to censor it.

Army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said security forces had returned to the station late on Friday after Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva had ordered that People Channel be blocked.

“We retreated today because we did not want any loss of life or to hurt anyone,” Sansern said shortly before midnight on Friday. “But the station is inciting violence and spreading false information and rumours to the detriment of the country.”

It was unclear how the red-shirted supporters of ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra would respond.

They have been demonstrating in Bangkok for almost a month, with one of their encampments effectively closing down an upmarket shopping mall and hotel district for a week until some big stores reopened on Friday.

Tens of thousands have rallied in Bangkok to demand an early election, but the numbers at their two main rally points generally dwindle to a few thousand overnight.

Many protesters, including Bangkok residents who have rallied to the “red shirt” cause, will want to leave the capital from this weekend to be with their families for Songkran, the Thai New Year festival, which runs from April 13 to 15.


Friday’s confrontation was the most violent yet in the latest rally, although the security forces eventually pulled back rather than risk bloodshed.

Fourteen protesters, three police and a soldier were wounded, a medical centre said. One red shirt suffered a gunshot wound, most likely from a rubber bullet. Others had minor scrapes.

Security forces had fired water cannon and tear gas in a failed attempt to push back thousands of protesters who had driven to the Thaicom Pcl THCOM.BK satellite station about 60 km (35 miles) north of Bangkok.

The protesters had climbed over rolls of barbed wire and forced open the gate of the compound, holding it for about three hours in defiance of an emergency decree.

The broadcasts had resumed after talks between police and protest leaders, and the demonstrators left.

The increase in tension since Abhisit imposed the state of emergency in Bangkok late on Wednesday caused a wobble in the stock market, but the main index .SETI turned higher on Friday after influential fund manager Mark Mobius told Reuters he remained bullish on Thailand.

“We are not so concerned about the political situation in Thailand,” Mobius, executive chairman of Templeton Asset Management, said in a telephone interview.

“Because, as you know, we have been investing in Thailand for almost 15 years or more. And we think that this kind of change in the Thai political environment has happened many times before.” (Addition reporting by Warapan Worasart and Viparat Jantraprap; Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Alex Richardson)