“ Thai gov't not easing up ”

BANGKOK – Thailand’s government insisted yesterday that a crackdown on Red Shirt protesters would continue despite their plea for United Nations-mediated talks to end four days  of street clashes  with troops that have killed 30 people.Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said that a pause by the Thai military was unnecessary since  troops were “not using weapons to crack down  on civilians”.The government maintained that it was only targeting armed “terrorists” among the demonstrators.Panitan’s comments dashed hopes of an end to Thailand’s worst political violence in decades, which has spiralled out of control and raised concerns of sustained, widespread chaos in this nation of 65 million people. Thailand is a key United States ally and Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.According to government figures, 59 people have died and more than 1 600 have been wounded since the Red Shirts began their protests in March. The toll includes 30 civilians killed and 232 injured since last Thursday in fighting that has turned parts of the city known for its nightlife into an urban war zone.A towering column of black smoke rose over the city yesterday as protesters set fire to a barricade of tyres. (AP)